Israel Blames Arab Neighbors for Stalling On Nuke-Free Zone

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -

Israel is blaming its Arab neighbors for the failure of progress toward achieving a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, saying that “if a serious regional effort has not emerged in the Middle East during the last five years, it is not because of Israel.”

Israel’s statement, distributed Thursday to a global conference on a landmark disarmament treaty, is the country’s first public comment since it the conference began.

As an observer nation, it cannot address the ongoing conference, where many countries have expressed frustration that a key meeting toward a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone, promised for 2012, has not taken place. That goal was set the last time the conference met five years ago.

Israel’s statement says it has been willing to meet with its neighbors toward setting an agenda for talks on a Middle East nuclear-free zone, but that after five rounds of consultations with some of its Arab neighbors in Switzerland between October 2013 and June 2014, the other states discontinued the talks.

The statement notes that the consultations were “the first direct engagement between Israel and its neighbors on this issue in over 20 years.”

Israel “responded positively” to invitations by a Finnish facilitator in October and January of this year for a sixth round of consultations, but they were postponed several times and didn’t take place, the statement says.

“This strident opposition to conduct a direct dialogue with Israel … underlines and reinforces the mistrust and suspicion between the states in the region,” it says. “Ultimately, it is difficult to understand how any disarmament, arms control and regional security issues can be addressed without any direct dialogue between the regional states, as the Group of Arab States suggests.”