A senior Israeli official said the Jewish state had been on the threshold of producing nuclear arms at least three decades ago, but he stopped short of confirming the widely-held — though never confirmed — belief that Israel has a nuclear arsenal today.

Speaking at a security conference near Tel Aviv on Sunday, Ariel Levite, deputy head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, recounted the history of world nuclear development and the creation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which limited the possession of nuclear weapons to those who had them before 1967.

The treaty, ratified by most countries, went into effect in 1970. It was largely successful in putting the brakes on the nuclear race, he said, "but nevertheless there was some creeping forward, as a result of which three threshold states appeared, those who were outside the nuclear agreement, India, Pakistan and Israel."

Levite, who prefaced his remarks by saying they were his own opinion and not an official commission statement, did not specifically refer to any Israeli weapons, although India and Pakistan went on to become declared nuclear powers.

Contacted by The Associated Press on Monday, Levite said his remarks should not be interpreted as a policy statement nor as an indicator of Israel's past or present nuclear status.

"I meant that, in terms of world perception, during that period, some were seen as closer (to a nuclear capacity) and some were further away, I'm not going into it any further than that," he said. "In the context of a 10-minute presentation I was making an analytical observation, not an official statement."

Israel officially has a policy of "nuclear ambiguity," saying only that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, while refusing to confirm or deny reports that it has hundreds of nuclear bombs and may be the world's six-largest nuclear power.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert caused a stir last month with a remark he made to a German TV station, which was widely interpreted as confirming Israel has nuclear weapons. Olmert said he had been misunderstood.

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