US, Arabs reach deal at nuclear treaty talks

The United States accepted Arab demands to pressure Israel over its atomic program to rescue talks on shoring up a global anti-nuclear arms pact, Western envoys said on Friday.

Politics

But they said Iran or Syria might still block a final declaration now agreed by most of the 190 signatories of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, who have been trying for a month to strengthen the troubled pact.

Either or both could block the declaration because NPT meetings make decisions through consensus. If agreed, this would be the first deal at an NPT review meeting since 2000.

"We have a deal that everyone can live with," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "Now the question, is will Iran do the right thing? Will they go against something the entire Arab League and everyone else here is ready to support?"

Syrian delegates also refused to commit themselves to supporting the final declaration.

The final draft urges Israel, which did not participate in the conference, to sign the NPT and put its nuclear facilities under U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The United States fought hard to delete that clause but backed down to save the conference, delegates said.

Delegates were to hold a final session later on Friday to adopt the declaration, which contains plans for further disarmament, strengthening global non-proliferation efforts and ensuring access to technology for peaceful uses.

The NPT is intended to stop the spread of atomic weapons, though it allowed the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia to keep their arsenals while calling on them to negotiate on disarmament.

Analysts say the treaty has been under pressure due to Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs and the failure of the five official nuclear states to disarm.

The latest draft calls for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to organize a meeting of all Mideast states in 2012 on how to make the region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

"STICKING POINTS"

The creation of a WMD-free zone would eventually force Israel to declare and abandon its atomic bombs. U.S. officials say such a zone could not be created without Mideast peace.

The Jewish state, which like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan never signed the NPT, is presumed to have a sizable nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies its existence.

The Obama administration changed U.S. policy by joining Britain, France, Russia and China in backing a Mideast nuclear conference while encouraging Israel to participate.

"We've got a strong draft that would strengthen all three pillars of the NPT -- disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy," a diplomat said.

Britain's chief delegate, Ambassador John Duncan, told Reuters the draft text was "unprecedented" in its scope.

The 2005 NPT review collapsed after participants could not agree on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and in the face developing nations' annoyance with the United States for failing to meet previous disarmament pledges.

Chief Iranian delegate Ali Asghar Soltanieh accused the United States and the other nuclear powers of rejecting calls for a precise deadline for disarmament and other demands.

If these issues were not addressed in the declaration, he said Iran was prepared to act alone and vote against it.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

Reuters

Diplomats haggle into final hours of nuke session
By CHARLES J. HANLEY (AP)

UNITED NATIONS — Diplomats dueled into the final hours of a monthlong nuclear treaty conference Friday, debating elements of a complex plan that includes small steps toward nuclear disarmament by the big powers and toward a ban on all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Syrian delegate Bashar Jaafari said "many" items remained unresolved on the conference's last day, when the 189 member nations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) must accept the 28-page draft Final Declaration by consensus, or reject it.

He pointed specifically to wording that might toughen the international response to countries that withdraw from the treaty, presumably to build nuclear weapons. That option is valued by Arab states in particular in their confrontation with Israel, which has an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.

Iran also called for changes in the proposed final document, particularly for speedier disarmament by the nuclear powers. But it wasn't clear whether this public dissent would scuttle a final accord, or the dissidents would go along in the end with a consensus on the broad plan.

The continued bickering caused a postponement of an 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) opening of the Friday session until 3 p.m. (1900 GMT).

The conference is convened every five years to review and advance the objectives of the 40-year-old NPT, under which nations without nuclear weapons committed not to acquire them; those with them — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — committed to move toward their elimination; and all endorsed everyone's right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

The last NPT conference, in 2005, failed to adopt a consensus declaration, in part because U.S. President George W. Bush had withdrawn U.S. backing for such nonproliferation steps as ratifying the treaty banning all nuclear tests. President Barack Obama's support for an array of arms-control measures improved the cooperative atmosphere at the 2010 conference.

For the first time at an NPT review, the proposed declaration offered complex action plans for all three of the treaty's "pillars" — nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful nuclear energy.

The five recognized weapons states did manage to strip earlier drafts of specific timelines for disarmament negotiations, such as a proposal that they consult among themselves on how to disarm and report back to the 2015 conference, after which a high-level meeting would convene to negotiate a "roadmap" for abolishing nuclear weapons.

But in the proposed final draft the five weapons states committed to "accelerate concrete progress" toward reducing their atomic weaponry, and to report on progress in 2014 in preparation for the 2015 NPT review session. The document calls on them also to reduce the role of nuclear arms in their military doctrines.

The disarmament action plan inevitably leaves a major gap, since it wouldn't obligate four nations that are not members of the treaty — India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, all of which have or are suspected of having nuclear arsenals.

On the Middle East, Arab states and Israel's allies had been at odds over wording in a plan to turn the region into a nuclear weapons-free zone.

The draft final declaration would have the NPT states call for convening a conference in 2012 "on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction."

This Arab idea of a WMD-free zone, meant to pressure Israel to give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal, was endorsed by the 1995 NPT conference but never acted on.

Israel has long said a full Arab-Israeli peace must precede such weapons bans. But at this conference the U.S., Israel's chief supporter, said it welcomes "practical measures" leading toward the goal of a nuke-free zone, and U.S. diplomats have discussed possibilities with Israel.

A major sticking point as of Thursday was said to be a passage naming Israel, reaffirming "the importance of Israel's accession to the NPT," a move that would require it to destroy its estimated 80 or so nuclear warheads.

Iran demanded that this NPT session insist Israel join the treaty before a 2012 conference. Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz told reporters the Arab position was softer — that Israel's accession to the treaty would come as "part of the process" begun in 2012.

Although the Israelis apparently have acquiesced to U.S. urging that they take part in such a 2012 discussion, they balked at participating under terms in which they were the only nation mentioned in this way, a Western ambassador told The Associated Press.

"If Israel is mentioned, it doesn't attend. If it isn't mentioned, it attends," said this diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity Thursday because of the sensitivity of the continuing negotiations.

Establishment of a verifiable Mideast nuclear weapons-free zone should help allay international concerns about whether Iran's ambitious nuclear program is aimed at building bombs, something Tehran denies. The Iranians have long expressed support for a nuke-free Mideast.

Whatever the result Friday, all-important details of a 2012 Mideast conference would remain to be worked out, such as whether the talks are meant as the start of formal negotiations on a treaty.

The Associated Press.

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