Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Syria Calls for a 'Nuclear-Free Mideast'

Rest of the world has reservations...

U.N. - It seems as if recent Iranian and Libyan moves toward disarmament have now pushed Syria to call for a Security Council resolution to make the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone, on Monday.

But diplomats said the council was divided over the usefulness of accepting Syria's request, thinking it is primarily aimed at Israel.

In closed-door consultations Monday, only six of the 15 council members spoke in support of the proposed resolution, three short of the nine needed to pass it. Pakistan, a council member from South Asia with its own nuclear weapons, had reservations about it, Syrian Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said.

Council members France, Britain, Germany, Bulgaria and the United States also had reservations, said an unknown diplomat who attended the discussions.

The diplomat said Syria urged the council to take steps to require Israel to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. Other council members said a resolution would be pointless if the US did not exert pressure on Israel to cooperate.

In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said that "as an overall objective, we would like to see a region free of weapons of mass destruction."

Ereli distanced the State Department from the Syrian move, stating the resolution was intended to score political points against Israel.

Israel has not confirmed nor denied whether it has nuclear weapons.

Earlier this month, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Israeli daily Haaretz: "We work on the assumption that Israel has nuclear capability."

Since the General Assembly has already adopted a "nuclear-free Mideast" resolution, the diplomat said, many countries felt it was better not to undermine that measure and to shelve the proposed Security Council resolution rather than force it to a vote of defeat or a divisive result.

The draft resolution asks for help from the Security Council "in adopting a global approach to countering the spread of all weapons of mass destruction in the countries of the Middle East without exception."

It urges Middle Eastern countries to adopt the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and accords banning the development, production and stockpiling of chemical and biological weapons.

The draft is the first to call for countries in the Middle East to adhere to all the relevant treaties.

The Bush administration recently accused Syria of possessing chemical weapons - an allegation Damascus denied. Syria is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but not the chemical or biological weapons conventions.

Iran, has admitted it was enriching uranium, but has also denied having a weapons program, it now has agreed to surprise U.N. inspections of its atomic facilities.

This month, Libya also agreed to dismantle its nuclear and other terror weapons programs under international supervision.

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