Egypt cites urgent need for nuclear-free Mideast

The need has "doubled" to create a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, Egypt said.

New York: The need has "doubled" to create a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East as Britain, Russia and the United States have done nothing to carry out a 1995 pledge to set it up, Egypt told a UN conference here on Wednesday.

In a speech read in his absence to a conference reviewing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit said: "The need is doubled today for the effective and comprehensive implementation of the 1995
(NPT) resolution on the Middle East."

He noted that the three states, Britain, Russia and the United States, which sponsored this resolution have, in fact, exerted "no effort... to assure its implementation”.

His remarks were read out by Egypt`s UN Ambassador Maged Abdel Aziz.

Egypt is leading non-aligned nations in a push to convene next year a conference to discuss turning the Middle East into a zone free of nuclear weapons.

The non-aligned states also want Israel, which is believed to have some 200 atomic bombs, officially to declare its arsenal and then join the NPT in order to disarm.

Israel says it will only do this after there is a peace agreement in the Middle East. This position is supported by the United States.

Arab diplomats object, saying that the creation of a weapons-free zone would actually be a catalyst towards reaching peace.

Egypt and the United States are trying to work out a compromise to start talks on a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone, diplomats said.

Deadlock over this issue threatens to block progress at the NPT meeting, which focuses on disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Arab diplomats insist that creating such a zone should not be held hostage to the lack of peace in the Middle East.

"A conference should look at whatever steps are necessary to move forward," said one diplomat.

"But we expect it would be one which would launch negotiations on a zone and not just be a talk shop," he said.

NPT review conferences have been held every five years since the treaty was signed in 1970.

The 1995 review conference called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and extended the NPT indefinitely.

The 2000 conference outlined steps toward disarmament by nuclear-weapons states.

But the NPT process stalled in 2005, when bickering over a Middle East weapons-free zone and over the Iranian nuclear crisis destroyed any chance of new agreements or fixes to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.


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