New York: The United States and the world`s four other major nuclear powers say they are ready for "concrete steps" to help move the Middle East toward establishing a regional nuclear weapons-free zone.
After 15 years of inaction, this long-dormant Arab idea, intended to pressure Israel to give up its secretive atomic arsenal, has been revived at the month long conference reviewing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
But how far the United States, Israel`s strongest supporter, is willing to go is not yet clear. Washington`s chief arms control official said the lack of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace remains an obstacle.
"The question is, how do you do that in the absence of a peace plan?" Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said on Wednesday of the "nuke-free" zone idea.
But in answer to a reporter`s question, she said the US has been working "for months" with Egypt on the issue. Washington also has been discussing it with the Israelis, said another Western diplomatic source, who asked for anonymity since he was discussing other countries` contacts.
"The Five" — the treaty-recognised nuclear powers United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — took their position in a joint statement of non-proliferation and disarmament goals read to the conference on Wednesday, in its third day, by Russian arms negotiator Anatoly I Antonov.
Of the proposal for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, he said, "We are ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the review conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction."
In 1995, another of these twice-a-decade conferences adopted a resolution calling for a Middle East zone free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Such a zone would join five other nuclear-free regions globally — Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the South Pacific and Latin America.
It was support for that 15-year-old resolution that the five powers reaffirmed on Wednesday.