APNewsBreak: Top US envoy meets Arab nations, warns pressure on Israel endangers Mideast talks

VIENNA (AP) — Barack Obama's top nuclear envoy warned Arab ambassadors Wednesday that they risk contributing to a failure of Mideast talks if they use an upcoming meeting in Vienna to pressure Israel over its nuclear program, diplomats said.

They told The Associated Press that Gary Samore, Obama's top adviser on nuclear issues, delivered that message at a closed meeting with Arab ambassadors accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Three diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency agreed to discuss the confidential meeting on condition of anonymity.

Arab nations plan to introduce a resolution urging Israel to open its nuclear program to international perusal at an agency conference next week. That resolution narrowly passed at last year's annual conference of 151 nations, further increasing Mideast tensions.

One of the diplomats said that — although Samore was attending this week's 35-nation IAEA board meeting — his main focus in Vienna was to persuade the Arab nations not to resubmit the resolution at the annual IAEA conference next week, reflecting the priority attached to the issue by the Obama administration.

Israel is commonly assumed to have nuclear arms but declines to discuss its status. The annually recurring row in Vienna over its nuclear program has assumed greater significance than usual against the backdrop of renewed Israel-Palestinian peace talks and the threat by the Palestinians to walk out of the talks if Israel resumes construction of settlements on the West Bank.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the U.S. is concerned that the Arab move, should it happen, could jeopardize the Mideast peace talks now going on.

"First of all, let's state a fact," Crowley said. "Israel has fully cooperated with the IAEA and that is in contrast to one or more governments, Iran and Syria being two that come to mind, who have not cooperated with the IAEA."

One of the diplomats said Samore was also lobbying other IAEA nations to gather as many opponents of the vote as possible, should the Arabs go ahead and submit the resolution. Another said Arab representatives at the closed meeting told Samore they would have to consult on higher levels before making any decision.

Two diplomats said Samore also warned that continued pressure on Israel could doom chances of a planned 2012 conference on a Mideast nuclear-free zone, as proposed by the U.N.'s 189-nation Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty conference earlier this year.

A fourth diplomat — a senior envoy from an Arab nation who also asked for anonymity — said Samore's request had been relayed to his capital.

"We don't know what the decision will be," he said.

Over Israeli objections, the planned 2012 talks were backed by the U.S. and other nuclear powers for the first time since Arab nations pushed for such a gathering 15 years ago.

Israel, the U.S. and their allies consider Iran the region's greatest proliferation threat, fearing that the country is trying to achieve the capacity to make nuclear weapons despite its assertion that it is only building a civilian program to generate power.

They also say Syria — which, like Iran, is under IAEA investigation — ran a clandestine nuclear program, at least until Israeli warplanes destroyed what they describe as a nearly finished plutonium-producing reactor two years ago. Syria denies that.

But Islamic nations insist that Israel is the true danger in the Middle East, saying they fear its nuclear weapons capacity.

The latest pressure puts the Jewish state in an uncomfortable position. It wants the international community to take stern action to prevent Iran from obtaining atomic weapons but at the same time brushes off calls to come clean about its own nuclear capabilities.

Passions have grown since last September when the IAEA general assembly overrode Western objections to pass a resolution directly criticizing Israel and its atomic program for the first time in 18 years.

The result was a setback not only for Israel but also for the United States and other supporters of the Jewish state.

Because the resolution passed by only a four-vote margin, lobbying by both side has intensified ahead of next week's assembly.