U.S. Presses Israel on Talks for Nuclear-Free Zone

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -

The United States has sent a top official to Israel in an effort to revive talks on a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons, a central issue of a nuclear treaty review conference that some fear will end Friday without progress on global disarmament.

The State Department confirmed that the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation was in Israel to discuss the issue. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declined comment on Thomas Countryman’s visit, saying it was a “very sensitive” matter.

Establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons in one of the world’s most tense regions is a rare point of agreement between the United States and Russia these days. Frustrated by the delay of a conference on the zone that was supposed to take place three years ago, Russia has proposed that UN-led talks be held no later than March 2016.

Secretary of State John Kerry this month called the proposed zone an “ambitious goal and fraught with challenges” but worth pursuing.

The pressure comes as the president of the review conference, Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, on Wednesday pleaded with countries to close the “still wide” gaps on major issues under disarmament and non-proliferation.

“I have nothing substantive to share with you. This is the problem,” she said. “Please, I need your help.” She set a deadline of Thursday afternoon for a draft text that can be shared with countries’ capitals for possible action on Friday.