Israel reported to discuss joining nuke-free Mideast conference

After deflecting pressure to join treaty, Israel said in unconfirmed Maariv report to have met quietly with other regional states — including Iran — in Switzerland on a possible change of stance

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

The Nahal Sorek Nuclear Research Center   (Photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/ Flash 90)
The Nahal Sorek Nuclear Research Center (Photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/ Flash 90)

Senior Israeli officials reportedly held a rare meeting last week in Switzerland with representatives from an array of regional states — including Iran — and other major powers to discuss convening an international conference on making the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction.

The Israeli side was represented by Jeremy Issacharoff, deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, and by a senior official from the Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, according to a report in the Maariv daily.

The United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Libya sent officials specially for the meetings, while other states sent representatives from their Swiss embassies, the report said.

The United States, Russia, and United Kingdom, powers working to bring the conference to life, were also represented. Jaakko Laajava, Finland’s undersecretary of state and UN-appointed facilitator for the conference, attended as well.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the report.

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 for it 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.

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