Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked US President Barack Obama on Saturday for blocking a UN move aimed at forcing Israel to come clean on its nuclear capabilities en route to a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu spoke with US Secretary of State John Kerry and asked him to convey his gratitude to Obama for the stance the US took at the United Nations review conference for the Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York. The US late Friday rejected the New York meeting’s final document, as did the UK and Canada.
Israel is not a party to the treaty and has never publicly declared what is widely considered to be an extensive nuclear weapons program. The UN meeting had been set to convene a conference by next March, and appoint a special emissary, that might have forced Israel to acknowledge its nuclear program.
Netanyahu, who had been in contact with the US in the course of the UN meeting, also thanked Britain and Canada for their opposition to the final document, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
The US move at the UN conference Friday came hours after Obama had declared in a speech at a Washington DC synagogue that the US would always stand by Israel. Obama pledged: “Our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.
The failed final document had called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a conference on a nuclear-free Middle East no later than March 2016, regardless of whether Israel and its neighbors agreed on an agenda.
Since adopting the final document required consensus, the rejection by the United States, backed by Britain and Canada, meant the entire blueprint for global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation for the next five years has been blocked after four weeks of negotiations. The next treaty review conference is in 2020.
The language on the final document was “incompatible with our long-standing policies,” said Rose Gottemoeller, the US under secretary of state for arms control and international security.
She named Egypt as being one of the countries “not willing to let go of these unrealistic and unworkable conditions.”
Egypt later said it was extremely disappointed and warned, “This will have consequences in front of the Arab world and public opinion.”
Iran, speaking for a group of more than 100 mostly developing countries, said it was surprised to see the US, Britain and Canada willing to block the entire document in defense of a country that it said has endangered the region by not agreeing to safeguards for its nuclear program.
Israel has been a fierce critic of the current efforts of world powers to negotiate an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran claims is for peaceful purposes only.
Gottemoeller also pointed out that the 2010 mandate to hold a conference on a Middle East nuclear-free zone has now effectively expired. The head of the Russian delegation, Mikhail Ulyanov, noted the setback, saying it was “a shame that an opportunity for dialogue has to be missed, perhaps for a long time to come.”
Israel had been concerned that the Obama administration might not block new efforts by the conference to force Israel to come clean on its nuclear capabilities. But administration officials had insisted the US would hold firm.
The United States sent a top official to Israel to discuss the matter in recent days. On Thursday, the State Department confirmed that Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, was in Israel to discuss the NPT issue. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declined comment on Countryman’s visit, saying it was a “very sensitive” matter. Other officials also refused to comment.
At the previous conference, in 2010, to Israel’s dismay, the Obama administration signed onto the final document which called for a conference of all Middle Eastern states to move forward on a 1995 proposal for a nuclear-free Mideast and which urged Israel to sign the NPT treaty and place “all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards.” Later, though, Obama and his then national security adviser James Jones denounced efforts to single out Israel.
Two insiders, both speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, had raised concerns earlier this week that the US might be backing away from the 2010 pledge to ensure Israel’s security was not jeopardized on the issue. One had said there was concern that the US might take a position that breached this pledge. The other said “it seems possible that there is a change there.”
In a column for Bloombergview.com on Wednesday, writer Eli Lake said the Israeli government was worried the US would allow the conference “to adopt a resolution that could compel Israel to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal.” He quoted a senior Israeli government official saying, “Israel is increasingly concerned that the United States is not going to prevent the NPT review conference… from adopting a resolution on the Middle East that would jeopardize Israel’s national security.”
However, Lake also quoted Bernadatte Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, disputing this. The US, Meehan said, was working to ensure the final text “meets our interests and those of Israel.” She added: “This administration and this president do not break commitments to our Israeli partners, and any suggestion to the contrary is offensive.”