'Hope' for nuclear-free Mid-East
The head of UN's nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, has said he has seen a "glimmer of hope" for a nuclear-free Middle East.
After meeting Ariel Sharon, he said the Israeli prime minister had for the first time talked about the establishment of a nuclear-free zone.
Mr ElBaradei quoted Mr Sharon as saying that this could only be achieved
once there was peace in the region.
" The prime minister this morning affirmed to me that Israel's policy [is] that in the context of peace, establishment of peace in the Middle East, Israel will be looking for establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East," Mr ElBaradei said.
BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the UN official is keen
to convince the Israelis that the best way to avoid further nuclear proliferation
in the region is for all governments to join in a collective ban on nuclear
Mr Sharon was expected to raise the subject of Iran's nuclear programme at
The Israelis say that will not change as long as they feel threatened by countries in the Middle East.
Officials have told Mr ElBaradei their main concern is Iran's alleged efforts to make nuclear bombs - something they say threatens their existence.
Mr ElBaradei has been telling Israel that Iran and Arab states see Israel as the main threat - an unaccountable nuclear power that gets special treatment.
He says the perceived security imbalance is wearing down the legitimacy of
the non-proliferation regime.
Israel refuses to say whether it has nuclear weapons, although it is thought
to have up to 200 warheads.
Our correspondent says that when compared with India and Pakistan, other states which have recently developed nuclear arms, Israel's deterrent is probably the most sophisticated.
It can be delivered by long-range ballistic missiles or advanced war planes, he says.