Israel dismisses Arab complaint about atom arsenal
By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) - Israel dismissed on Wednesday a push by Arab countries to have the United Nations nuclear watchdog's 139 member states condemn the Jewish state for having nuclear weapons, saying it was "cynically motivated."
Israel neither confirms nor denies having a nuclear arsenal but experts estimate it has between 100 and 200 atomic bombs.
In a letter submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on behalf of Arab member states, Oman asked that member states consider a statement strongly criticizing Israel at the agency's General Conference this week.
Israel pushed for countries to reject the letter, which is on the meeting's agenda. "There is no basis for this agenda item, whose sponsors are motivated by extraneous considerations which are also evident in their efforts to challenge Israel's credentials," said the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, Gideon Frank.
" Both actions are politically and cynically motivated and have little to do with the IAEA's objective or mandate. They inevitably cast a serious doubt on the sincerity of its sponsors," he said in a statement to the General Conference.
A statement adjoined to the Arab letter said: "Israel's possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region, especially if Israel's nuclear installations remain outside any international control."
Arab countries submit similar statements to the IAEA's general conference every year, but have failed to win backing since 1991.
NUCLEAR WEAPONS-FREE ZONE
Israel is the only country in the Middle East believed to possess nuclear weapons and has not signed the global pact aimed at halting the spread of atomic arms, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The Arab letter was submitted on behalf of 15 countries -- including Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan -- and the Palestinian Authority. Iraq was not included.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has called for Israel to scrap its atomic arsenal.
If countries backed the Arab proposal, listed as agenda item 22, Israel said it would not support the preceding item, an Egyptian draft resolution calling for states in the Middle East to take steps toward creating a zone free of nuclear weapons.
" Israel ... will not be in a position to support agenda item 21 on the application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle East if any action is taken on agenda item 22," Frank said.
The latest Arab drive to condemn Israel follows a resolution passed by the IAEA's 35-nation governing board requiring that Iran, a sworn enemy of the Jewish state, be reported to the U.N. Security Council over fears it wants to build nuclear weapons.
Arab countries, however, stuck to their line.
" Israel persists in its refusal to accede to the non-proliferation regime ... We believe that that attitude is a serious obstacle to the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free area in the Middle East and bringing about just and lasting peace," said Morocco's Ambassador to Austria, Omar Zniber.
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