US hopeful Mideast nuclear conference can be held soon
The United States still hopes a conference aimed at creating a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East can take place soon, a high-level US official said Friday, urging regional players to cooperate.
"I think it could be very soon, if the will exists among the regional parties to engage with each other and to respect each others' needs," said Thomas Countryman, US assistant secretary of international security and nonproliferation.
He was speaking to reporters in Geneva following a preparatory meeting for the 2015 review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Countryman insisted his country, along with Britain, Russia and the United Nations, which had initially aimed to organise the conference in Helsinki late last year, remained committed to getting it done.
However, enabling the conference "requires significant engagement among the parties of the region," he said, pointing out that representatives of some states in the region had met discretely to discuss a way forward during the two-week Geneva meeting.
"I unequivocally hope," Countryman said, that the conference can take place this year.
A conference on the creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was called for at a May 2010 conference to review the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But it failed to happen as planned last year due to opposition from, among others, Israel, which according to diplomats at the time refused to attend due to the tense security situation in the region and fears it would become a target of diplomatic attacks in any talks.
Iran and Arab states criticise Israel for its suspected nuclear arsenal. Israel refuses to say whether it has nuclear arms, though security experts say it has a substantial number of weapons.
Israel and the United States and its allies meanwhile say Iran is the main proliferation threat, even though Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
Frustrated at the delay, Egypt walked out of the NPT talks in Geneva earlier this week, and other Arab nations had also expressed their exasperation, Countryman said.
"The Egyptian decision is regrettable," he said, adding though that it did not change the basic "need and obligation for regional states to engage with each other."