IAEA passes Mideast resolution amid tensions over Israel

The UN nuclear assembly on Saturday passed a resolution urging all Middle East nations to renounce aspirations to build nuclear bombs in a vote most Arabs boycotted over amendments they felt took pressure off Israel.

The rare vote was 82-0 with 13 abstentions after days of wrangling between Israel and Western nations on one side of the spectrum and between Arab and Islamic states on the other, polarizing a body that normally operates on consensus.

The decision at the annual assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency was non-binding but highlighted deep tensions over Israel’s presumed nuclear might and avoiding of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A similar resolution a year ago passed overwhelmingly last year but with 47 abstentions by Western and developing nations.

To get broader approval this year, sponsor Egypt deleted clauses urging all Middle East nations not to make or test nuclear arms or let them be deployed on their soil, and big nuclear arms powers not to foil such steps.

But efforts to achieve consensus were torpedoed by competing Israeli and Arab additions, which included — respectively — urging all regional states to comply with obligations to the NPT and all nations to accede to the global treaty.

Entitled “Application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle East”, the resolution also underlined the importance of a – as yet rocky – peace process between Israel and Arabs in establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the region.

Arab Walkout

Almost all Arab League states stalked out of the Vienna assembly hall before the vote over Israeli-sponsored amendments pushed through by Western states in paragraph-by-paragraph votes earlier, changes the Arab felt weakened the measure.

“How could we approve a call on us all to obey our international obligations when Israel itself refuses to adhere to any non-proliferation standards. This undermines the IAEA’s credibility?” one Arab diplomat told Reuters.

Other diplomats on both side spoke of an unprecedented poisoning of the atmosphere, lack of trust and double-dealing in negotiations at an IAEA gathering.

“It has been a circus, the worst conference in the history of the IAEA. I’ve never seen such animosity. But it reflects the unilateral character of the age we are living in, plus the lack of a true peace process,” said a European diplomat.

Approving the resolution were all European states, a handful of Asian, Latin American and African countries plus Iran and Egypt from the Islamic world. Abstainers included Israel, its chief ally the United States, and Syria.

Iran and Syria are under IAEA investigation over suspicions of covert ambitions to make atom bombs. They deny such intent.

Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, though it has never confirmed or denied it.

Israel has said that while a NWFZ was a commendable ideal, it is not feasible as long as some Arab neighbors continue to refuse to recognize the Jewish state, with Islamist Iran openly calling for its elimination.

Arab diplomats point to a chronic imbalance of power in the Middle East caused by Israeli might and say it breeds instability and spurs others to seek mass-destruction weaponry.

Ref: Haaretz

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