WASHINGTON: Egypt called Monday for world powers to press both Iran and Israel on nuclear weapons, saying that the Middle East should be a zone free of the ultra-destructive arms.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who is representing Egypt at a major summit in Washington on nuclear security, voiced hope that diplomacy rather than sanctions would dissuade Iran from nuclear weapons.
But he said the so-called P5 – the five permanent members on the Security Council — should press Israel on its refusal to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Let s also try to convince the P5 to bring Israel onboard. You see, you have possibly today two emerging threats in the Middle East, Aboul Gheit told the PBS Newshour on US public television.
We are eager that we do not have a nuclear Iran, as well as we do not want to see a nuclear Israel. We want a zone that is free of nuclear weapons – and it can be done, he said.
Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons but maintains a policy of strategic ambiguity, refusing to confirm or deny its arsenal.
Iran is part of the NPT but Western powers believe it is in violation of the treaty and is pursuing nuclear weapons. The clerical regime insists it is only seeking the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the last minute pulled out of the Washington summit, reportedly out of concern that Arab states and Turkey would shift the focus to Israel and away from its arch-enemy Iran.
Aboul-Gheit dismissed Netanyahu s concerns, saying that the summit was meant to address nuclear security and not specifically the NPT.
President Hosni Mubarak expressed support to President Barack Obama’s call to rid the world of nuclear weapons, especially the Middle East in a message delivered by Aboul-Gheit.
Obama opened the global security summit Monday night after two days of meetings with selected presidents and prime ministers of the 47 countries assembled to recharge efforts to keep nuclear material out of terrorist hands
China s incremental move toward US ambitions to sanction Iran and Ukraine s plans get rid of highly enriched uranium put some wind in Obama s sails as he presses global leaders to join him in locking down all nuclear materials within four years.
Obama s meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao was the last of the summit warm-up sessions before the US leader sat down with his guests at a working dinner.
After the Hu meeting, White House national security aide Jeff Bader said Iran was a major topic of discussion at the 90-minute session.
They re prepared to work with us, Bader said, interpreting that willingness as another sign of international unity on this issue.
The upbeat assessment reflected a recent warming of US-Chinese diplomatic ties. Still, the meeting produced no breakthroughs. And Chinese spokesman Ma Zhaoxu did not mention sanctions in a statement on Hu s meeting with Obama.
Ma said China hopes all parties will step up diplomatic efforts and seek ways to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations.
China and the United States share the same overall goal on the Iranian nuclear issue, the Chinese statement said.
Obama has been pressing the case that a fourth round of sanctions are needed to convince Iran to alter its perceived course toward a nuclear weapons capability.
China, while historically averse to tough sanctions and uneasy about potential damage to its trade relationship with Tehran, may indeed be coming on board with Obama.
The US already has the robust backing of Great Britain, France and Germany. Russia, too, has shown a willingness to join the sanctions effort, meaning the required clean sweep of permanent members the United Nations Security Council.
But when pressed on whether China had committed to anything specific on the sanctions front, Bader was less direct.
We are going to be – we ve started to work that and we re going to be working on that in the coming days – coming days and weeks, he said. Obama wants agreement on sanctions before summer.
Brazil and Turkey, which both hold non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, are studying an alternative proposal to deal with Iran s controversial nuclear program, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Monday.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talked about designing a strategy different from sanctions at a meeting Monday, Amorim said.
Amorim told a news conference that Brazil agrees with the permanent members of the Security Council seeking a diplomatic solution, but has a different perspective on how the issue should be approached.
Erdogan said at a speech on the sidelines of the conference Monday that his country does not want Iran or any other nation to have nuclear weapons.
While the United States worries about Iran s nuclear program, Turkey has its own concerns about Israel s nuclear program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opted not to attend Obama s summit, and insiders said he had expected Turkey and Egypt to use the conference as a platform to challenge him over his country’s widely assumed nuclear arsenal, which the Jewish state never has acknowledged.
Iran s UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazee on Monday declared Obama s new nuclear policy, which excludes Iran from a US pledge not to use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them, an act of state terrorism because it threatens nations with weapons of mass destruction.
This policy of nuclear blackmail and terror runs counter to international law and the UN Charter and must be denounced by the international community and all peace-loving nations, Khazee told a General Assembly committee considering a draft Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians, who gave a major boost to arms control in 1994 when they agreed to surrender the nuclear weapons they inherited in the collapse of the Soviet Union, agreed to get rid of their weapons-grade fuel by 2012.
Some details are yet to be worked out, including how and where the nuclear fuel will be disposed of, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
The material could be sent to the US or Russia, but he declined to specify the amount, other than to say it was enough to make several nuclear weapons.
Canada, meanwhile, announced plans to send its spent nuclear fuel back to the United States as part of a global effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materiel.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the material from the Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario will be sent to the US by the end of 2018 and converted into a form that is unusable in nuclear weapons.
When the summit begins in earnest on Tuesday, the talks are expected to take up Obama s goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, with efforts to lock down materials to build those bombs an urgent first step.
Tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium are believed to be insufficiently protected from international criminal gangs and terrorist organizations.
Al-Qaeda is especially notable for its long-standing interest in weapons-usable nuclear material and the requisite expertise that would allow it to develop a yield-producing improvised nuclear device, John Brennan, the White House anti-terrorism chief, told reporters Monday. And its interest remains strong today.
Experts point to such a problem in Pakistan, for example. A new report from a Harvard nonproliferation expert, released Monday, finds that the South Asian country s small but growing stockpile faces immense threats and is the world s least secure from theft or attack.
However, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said his country s nuclear weapons are well-guarded. Islamabad has taken effective steps for nuclear safety, security and nonproliferation through extensive legislative, regulatory and administrative framework, said Gilani.
Japan, the victim of two nuclear attacks and a country that gets 30 percent of its energy from nuclear power, believes it is its moral responsibility to help secure nuclear m
aterial, said spokesman Kazuo Kodama.
There is a shared sense of crisis, a shared sense of urgency, Kodama said of the leaders gathered at the summit.
Japan, Kodama said, intends to provide money and experts to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to help in the efforts to stop the spread of nuclear technology and weapons. -Agencies