Diplomatic sources confirmed Tuesday that Israel and Iran attended an international conference two weeks ago in Switzerland to discuss the possibility of banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, according to Reuters.
The Israeli daily Maariv published a report last Thursday that Israel had attended the conference, but the Israeli Foreign Ministry would not confirm this.
While none of the diplomats would give details about the October 21-22 meeting, an Arab diplomat said Tuesday the presence of the two adversaries was a positive sign. He also confirmed the attendance of US officials and some Arab countries.
“That they were there, the Israelis and Iran, is the main thing,” he told Reuters.
Another diplomat characterized the talks as “quite constructive” and said another meeting is scheduled for later this month.
An Israeli official cited by Reuters said Israel had no direct contact with the Iranian and Arab delegates.
According to the Maariv report, Israel sent deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry Jeremy Issacharoff and a senior official from the Israel Atomic Energy Commission; the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Libya sent officials especially for the meetings; and other states sent representatives from their embassies in Switzerland.
Russia and the UK, which worked with the US to bring about the conference, also sent representatives. Jaakko Laajava, Finland’s undersecretary of state and UN-appointed facilitator for the conference, attended as well.
In September, Egypt’s interim foreign minister called for a nuclear-free Middle East in his address to world leaders at the UN.
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.”
Israel, which maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its nuclear weapons, has until now deflected calls to join the NPT or a conference on a nuke-free Mideast.
In November 2012, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said a proposed conference on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East could not be convened at that point, because of conditions in the region. She did say that the US would continue to work to create conditions that could result in a successful conference, as the US supports the goal of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
In March of that year, Israel’s UN ambassador indicated his government was unlikely to attend a conference on turning the Middle East into a WMD-free zone until there is peace throughout the region.
“Our position on that is we will be willing to attend something like that when there is comprehensive peace in the region,” UN Ambassador Ron Prosor said at the time. “Before that, we feel that this is something that is absolutely not relevant.”
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 NPT, but never acted on.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.