Eyeing Arab Ties, Israel to Observe Nuclear Pact Meeting

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel will take part as an observer in a major nuclear non-proliferation conference that opens at the United Nations on Monday, ending a 20-year absence in hope of fostering dialogue with Arab states, a senior Israeli official said.

Israel has stayed away from gatherings of NPT signatories since 1995 in protest at resolutions it regarded as biased against it.

Citing the example of disarmament talks in other regions, Israel says it would consider submitting to international nuclear inspections and controls only once at peace with the Arabs and Iran.

With Middle East upheaval and the disputed Iranian nuclear program often pitting Tehran-aligned Shi’ite Muslims against Sunni Arabs, a senior Israeli official saw in the April 27-May 22 NPT review conference a chance to stake out common causes.

“We think that this is the time for all moderate countries to sit and discuss the problems that everyone is facing in the region,” the Israeli official told Reuters on Sunday.

“I see this, coming as an observer to the conference now, as trying to demonstrate our good faith in terms of having such a conversation. We need direct negotiations between the regional parties, a regional security conversation, a conversation based on consensus. This [attendance at the NPT conference] is meant not to change our policy. It’s meant to emphasize our policy.”

The Israeli official doubted the deadlock over when Israel would sign a nuclear accord would be resolved at the pending NPT conference — anticipating, instead, an “Arab proposal that would not adopt the position of direct engagement” with Israel.

Still, the official described the NPT conference as a chance to build on opposition Israel shared with some Arabs to the April 2 outline nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.

The conference “doesn’t contradict a broader possible outreach,” the official said. Without naming specific countries, the official said some Arabs appeared less attentive to Israel’s non-NPT status as they were “too busy with bigger problems.”

“Our initiative for a Middle East free of non-conventional weapons is a principle. It will not change. But nothing is against Israel itself. It’s for everyone — Iran, Israel, everyone,” an Egyptian official said on condition on anonymity.

“Will we go and pressure Israel [at the conference]? I don’t think so. I don’t think the pressure will be intolerable.”