Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Arab states, Israel to attend UN forum on nuclear-free zone

The UN nuclear agency will next year host a conference, including Israel and Arab states, to discuss steps to make the Middle East into a zone free of nuclear weapons, the head of the UN watchdog said Sunday.
As Israel is the only Middle Eastern country believed to have nuclear weapons, the talks would effectively boil down to what the Israeli government would require to abandon the nuclear option. Israel has never confirmed nor denied having the nuclear bomb.

Speaking after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said the conference would be held in January and representatives of regional states and the UN Security Council would attend.

'The agency will hold a forum, in which Israel, Arab countries and Middle Eastern countries, will participate,' ElBaradei told reporters. 'This would be the first opportunity to start a dialogue about the conditions and steps that should be needed to establish a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.'

ElBaradei said that during his visit to Israel last month, the Israeli government repeatedly raised concerns about Iran's own nuclear program.