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Israel says peace crucial to nuke-free Mideast

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Israel’s U.N. ambassador indicated Friday his government is unlikely to attend a conference on turning the Middle East into a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction until there is peace throughout the region.

But Ambassador Ron Prosor later clarified that “Israel has not made a decision yet, either yes or no, on whether to participate in the conference.”

In May 2010, the 189 nations that are parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty called for convening a conference in 2012 on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and “all other weapons of mass destruction.” The conference is expected to take place later this year in Finland.

“Our position on that is we will be willing to attend something like that when there is comprehensive peace in the region,” Prosor told a group of reporters. “Before that, we feel that this is something that is absolutely not relevant.”

He said Israel has seen examples of nuclear programs in the region, citing Iraq where the Israeli air force destroyed an unfinished nuclear reactor in 1981, Syria where Israeli warplanes are believed to have destroyed a target in 2007 that foreign experts think was an unfinished nuclear reactor, and Iran’s current nuclear program.

Israel is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons but has avoided confirming or denying its existence. It is not a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The Arab proposal for a WMD-free zone in the Mideast, aimed at pressuring Israel to give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal, was initially endorsed by the 1995 conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but never acted on.

Israel has long said a full Arab-Israeli peace must precede any weapons bans in the Mideast. But at the 2010 NPT review conference, the United States, Israel’s most important ally, said it welcomed “practical measures” leading toward the goal of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported this week that the conference will take place in December.

Prosor was asked, without peace by December, Israel won’t attend?

“I’m saying what the Israeli stand is,” he replied. “After a comprehensive peace, you will see me and my smiling face attending any conference.”

Israel views Iran as an existential threat, citing frequent calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel’s destruction, Iran’s support for violent anti-Israel militant groups and its nuclear and long-range missile programs.

Iran insists its nuclear program is purely peaceful and aimed at producing nuclear energy, not weapons. Israel, the U.S., and many European nations believe Iran’s goal is to become a nuclear power.

“Iran’s nuclear weapons program is moving forward at the velocity of this Eurostar train from London to Paris _ and the international community is like this local train stopping at each local station,” Prosor said.

But he said the European Union’s recent sanctions and the decision by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication _ or SWIFT _ to block 30 Iranian banks from its global network, making it difficult for the country to make international money transfers, “have made at least clear to Tehran that there’s a certain price tag for continuing” its nuclear program.

Economic action is “much more effective than people think, and hopefully it might change behavior patterns if we continue with it,” Prosor said.

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