VIENNA – Muslim nations and Israel are heading for a confrontation at a 154-nation nuclear meeting next month over an Arab initiative to criticize Israel's secretive atomic program.
Documents submitted for that gathering show that Arab nations are seeking Israel's censure — a move the Jewish state says is a sideshow that deflects attention from the real danger to Mideast peace — Iran.
In asking September's International Atomic Energy Agency meeting to reprimand Israel, Jordan says Israel is guilty of thwarting "all initiatives to free the region of the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, and in particular of nuclear weapons."
Israel, in turn, warns that the Arab initiative is "serving Iran's attempt to divert the attention of the international community ... (from) its quest for nuclear weapons."
Israel is widely assumed to be the only Mideast country with such arms. But it refuses to either confirm or deny its status, sticking to an official policy of ambiguity that, combined with the stalemate over Palestinian demands, feeds tensions in the region.
Israel's Arab neighbors have repeatedly demanded that it declare itself, join the Nonproliferation Treaty and open its nuclear activities to full inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency — conditions Israel says it can consider only after peace rules in the Middle East. But Arab nations insist that peace can come only if Israel takes the steps it demands, leading to a standoff that has stretched over decades.
Already high tensions over the issue have grown in recent years as Iran forges ahead with nuclear activities that Israel says are meant to allow it to make atomic arms, a suspicion shared by the United States and other Western nations. Iran denies any interest in such weapons but refuses to cooperate with an IAEA probe of Iran's alleged secret work on nuclear weapons.
Iran also continues to enrich uranium, which can make both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear missiles, instead of accepting foreign offers of such fuel. That comes despite international sanctions against Iran and threats of attack from the Jewish state, which says it will not tolerate the existence of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Tehran has warned in turn that any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities will be met with a crushing response.
In Tehran, Iran's IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters that his country will "not suspend enrichment activities, even for a second."
The initiative to censure the Jewish state in a vote at the IAEA meeting comes from the 17 Arab members of the nuclear agency. But it is expected to be supported by Iran as well as most if not all the other Muslim countries, as well as others critical of Israel's stance on Palestine, meaning it has a good chance of passing.
The Arab and Israeli documents were submitted to a preparatory commission for the meeting. Arguing the Arab position, Jordanian Ambassador Makram Queisi says Israel is exposing the Middle East "to nuclear risks and threatening peace" by refusing to throw open its nuclear facilities to international purview.
Beyond his warning on Iran, Ehud Azoulay, Israel's chief IAEA delegate, questions whether Arab nations have the moral right to point fingers. He says some have "a long, unflattering history of violating their international obligations and other norms of the international community" — an apparent poke at Syria, itself suspected of hiding a nuclear program and the target of international condemnation for atrocities attributed to government troops fighting insurgents.
Some 20,000 people have died since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule began in March 2011, according to human rights groups.
At last year's meeting, Arab states repeated their demands of Israel but did not push for a resolution targeting the Jewish state by name. The conference did pass a resolution calling on all Middle East states to adopt the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi contributed from Tehran, Iran
On line: http://www.iaea.org/About/Policy/GC/GC56/Documents/