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Israel snubs Middle East nuclear-free summit


Israel, the Middle East's only nuclear power, will not attend a conference on creating a region free of nuclear weapons scheduled to take place in Finland, the head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) has said.

The snub comes as a blow to Finland, which earlier this year sent representatives to Israel in a bid to convince the Jewish state to attend the meeting.

Arab states also attempted to placate Israel so that it would attend by refraining from criticizing explicitly over its nuclear arsenal.

Arab states, headed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have long called for Israel to disarm its nuclear weapons, said to number at roughly 200 warheads.

Israel has ignored such requests, and the latest snub appears to be a continuation of a policy that refuses to allow its nuclear program to be engaged at an international level.

Speaking at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on Wednesday, IAEC chief Shaul Horev said the situation in the Middle East was not yet "conducive" to the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone.

"Such a process can only be launched when peaceful relations exist for a reasonable period of time in the region," Horev said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

The impetus for a nuclear weapons-free zone must come from within the region, he said.

"It cannot be imposed from outside. Regrettably, the realities in the Middle East are far from being conducive," he said.

"The concept of a region free of weapons of mass destruction, that has never been put to the test, even in the most peaceful regions of the world, is certainly much less applicable to the current volatile and hostile Middle East."

The conference comes as Israel continues to threaten a military strike against Iran over its nuclear program, which it believes masks a nuclear weapons drive.

Iran has rejected the charge, insisting its program is designed for peaceful purposes only.

Unlike Iran, the Jewish state is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which governs and restricts the development of nuclear technology, although it has IAEA membership.

Israel has also avoided international scrutiny over its nuclear weapons, leading Iran and Arab states to accuse the West of double standards towards the Jewish state.

Horev also addressed remarks made last week by Jordan's King Abdullah II in an exclusive AFP interview, accusing Israel of seeking to foil the kingdom's nuclear energy program.

"Israel supports the uses of nuclear power by its neighbors, to meet their energy and water needs," he said.

"Israel believes in the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the Middle East, as long as states fully honor their international non-proliferation obligations."

Israel has a history of thwarting nuclear programs in the region, bombing a nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 and a suspected nuclear site in Syria in 2007.

World powers fear, however, that if Israel conducted a similar strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, it could ignite a catastrophic regional war.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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