Russia urges progress on nuclear-free Mid-east meet

1st March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday urged the international community to speed up preparations for a conference on a nuclear-free Middle East next year.

A Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference held last May had called for a regional conference in 2012 to advance the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East.

"We believe that it is time to implement this decision because ... no coordinator has been assigned, and we are worried about this," Lavrov told journalists.

"All the problems surrounding this question are very serious," he added.

"But we are convinced that we cannot lag behind. We must sit down and start to discuss the concerns of each of the region's countries," he said.

Lavrov earlier told the 65 members of the UN Conference for Disarmament in Geneva that the process was now all the most important due to the recent popular uprisings in the Middle East.

Asked if the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East was attainable, Lavrov said: "We would not know until we start work."

Israel, widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East with around 200 warheads, has refused to participate in the conference, saying that it ignores the realities of the Middle East and the threats facing the region.

The Jewish state, which has a policy of neither confirming nor denying that it has nuclear weapons, has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or to allow international surveillance of its Dimona nuclear plant in the southern Negev desert.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also stressed the "utmost importance" of such a nuclear-free zone at the Conference for Disarmament on Tuesday, and slammed Israel's refusal to sign up to the proposal.

"It is a matter of concern that all efforts to establish a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East have not yet succeeded, due to the persistent refusal of the Zionist regime to join the NPT," said Salehi.

© 2011 AFP

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