VIENNA – A senior Iranian official said Wednesday that Israel's undeclared nuclear weapons pose the greatest threat to Mideast peace and accused the United States and other nuclear powers of hypocritically ignoring their disarmament commitments.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh's comments to a 189-nation nonproliferation meeting reflected Iran's attempts to deflect international concerns that its nuclear activities could be turned to making weapons.
Usually strident Western criticism of Iran has been muted since the conference opened Monday, possibly due to reluctance to burden the atmosphere ahead of a new meeting later this month between Iran and six powers attempting to nudge it toward concessions meant to ease such worries.
But Akhondzadeh didn't hold back. While avoiding direct mention of the United States, his criticism of "certain nuclear-weapon states" encompassed the U.S., Britain and France — three nations that will be sitting at the table with Iran, along with Russia, China and Germany in Baghdad on May 23.
He also described Israel as posing "the gravest threat to the stability and security" of the Middle East.
Although Israel has never confirmed it, it is widely assumed to be the only Mideast nation to possess nuclear arms.
The United States and its allies see Iran as the greatest potential nuclear threat in the Mideast because of its refusal to stop uranium enrichment and other activities that could be used to make such weapons. But Iran and the Arab states say the Jewish state's undeclared arms program poses the most pressing danger.
The United States has thrown its weight behind efforts to convene a meeting of all Mideast states later this year to discuss creating a region free of weapons of mass destruction.
But neither Israel nor Iran have committed to attending, and a recently retired senior Israeli official told The Associated Press his country was unlikely to attend. He demanded anonymity because his information was confidential.
Israel's absence would strip any such Mideast meeting of significance.
Beyond Israel, Akhondzadeh criticized "certain nuclear-weapon states" that have ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, saying their stockpile of weapons "and their continued modernization ... (is) the most serious threat to the survival of mankind."
He accused them of "lack of effective and systematic progress towards implementing nuclear disarmament obligations" under commitments to the Nonproliferation Treaty.
While he did not name the countries, his use of the term "certain" indicated he was talking about the United States, Britain and France. Iran has been careful not to irk Russia and China, the other two nuclear-weapons states that have signed the Nonproliferation Treaty and which oppose sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic by Washington and its Western allies.
"Certain nuclear-weapon states are expected to display sincerity and political will rather than hypocrisy with regard to their nuclear disarmament obligations," Akhondzadeh said.