Talks planned for next month on banning nuclear weapons in
the Middle East will not take place, a development likely to
anger Arab states but please Israel.
The U.S. State Department announced that the mid-December
conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass
destruction, or WMD, would not occur and did not make clear
when, or whether, it would take place.
Earlier this month, diplomats told Reuters that the talks
were likely to be postponed, rather than cancelled outright.
"As a co-sponsor of the proposed conference ... the United
States regrets to announce that the conference cannot be
convened because of present conditions in the Middle East and
the fact that states in the region have not reached agreement
on acceptable conditions for a conference," State Department
spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Nuland said that "a deep conceptual gap persists in the
region" on how to handle regional security and arms control,
adding that "outside states cannot impose a process on the
region any more than they can dictate an outcome."
The plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the possible
creation of a WMD-free Middle East was agreed to at a May
2010 conference of 189 parties to the 1970 nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
The United States, feared the conference, which was to be
held in Finland, could be used as a forum to bash Israel, a
concern likely to have increased after eight days of fierce
Israeli-Palestinian fighting that ended with a ceasefire on
Iran and Arab states often say Israel's presumed nuclear
arsenal poses a threat to Middle East peace and security.
Israel and Western powers see Iran as the main nuclear
proliferation threat. Tehran denies any atom bomb ambitions.
The State Department said it would keep working to try to
bring about a meeting, adding such a gathering must take into
account the security of all the states in the region and
operate on the basis of consensus - effectively guaranteeing
Israel, and everyone else, a veto.
"We would not support a conference in which any regional
state would be subject to pressure or isolation," Nuland
said, in a clear reference to U.S. concerns that other
participants might gang up on Israel.
U.S. and Israeli officials have said a nuclear arms-free zone
in the Middle East could not be a reality until there was
broad Arab-Israeli peace and Iran curbed its nuclear
Like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, Israel has never
signed the NPT. It neither confirms nor denies having nuclear
arms, although non-proliferation and security analysts
believe it has several hundred atomic weapons.
Even if the talks eventually occur, Western diplomats and
others expect little progress any time soon due to the
deep-rooted animosities in the region, notably the
Arab-Israeli conflict and Israeli concerns about Iran's
The Islamic state is in a stand-off with world powers that
suspect it is seeking the means to produce nuclear arms.
Israel has not ruled out military action against Iranian