The United States on Friday blocked an international document aimed at making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone, accusing Egypt and other nations of attempting to "cynically manipulate" the process to force Israel and its neighbors to meet disarmament deadlines.
The 9th international conference on the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), held in New York from April 27 to May 22, involved a total of 162 NPT participant states working to assess the worldwide disarmament process.
Egypt proposed a document calling on the U.N. secretary-general to hold a Middle East conference no later than March 2016, with a goal of ridding the region of nuclear weapons. The document said the conference could be held regardless of whether Israel participated, and that it could be held without agreement on an agenda or discussion of regional issues affecting Israel's security - two conditions Israel says must be met for it to participate, according to Reuters.
Israel is not an NPT member state and is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal. Though it has never publicly admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, it's widely assumed to have an extensive nuclear program.
Analysts believe that the proposed Middle East conference would have required Israel to reveal the nuclear program, and Israel is thought to have pressured the U.S. to reject Egypt's document, The Independent reported.
At the treaty review conference five years ago, the U.S. signed off on a document that called for talks on a Middle East nuclear-free zone by 2012, but Israel voiced strong opposition and the talks never took place, according to the Associated Press.
As for the final document stonewalled on Friday, the language was "incompatible with our long-standing policies," said Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.
Gottemoeller accused Egypt and other Arab supporters of not being "willing to let go of these unrealistic and unworkable conditions."
"We have long supported regional nuclear weapons-free zones, as these zones, when properly crafted and fully implemented, can contribute to international peace, security and stability," Gottemoeller said. "We have also stressed that the initiative for the creation of such zones should emanate from the regions themselves, and under a process freely arrived at and with the full mutual consent of all the states in the region."
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday called President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to convey his gratitude for blocking the document, according to an anonymous senior Israeli official.
"The United States kept its commitment to Israel by preventing a Middle East resolution that would single out Israel and ignore its security interests and the threats posed to it by an increasingly turbulent Middle East," the official said, according to Reuters.
The conferences are held every five years, and the rejection of the international document by the U.S., Britain and Canada means the "entire blueprint for global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation for the next five years has been blocked," according to AP.
Egypt expressed extreme disappointment, warning, "This will have consequences in front of the Arab world and public opinion."
Russia, who together with the U.S. holds over 90 percent of the world's nukes, said it and most other participants remained committed to nuclear non-proliferation.
"The vast majority of the delegations have noted that the treaty remains a 'cornerstone' of international security and stability, and serves their interests. Participant countries have confirmed their readiness to comply with their obligations under the NPT," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said, RT reported.
"We regretfully acknowledge that because of the positions of the US, Britain and Canada, we could not adopt the final document which included provisions on fulfilling the 1995 resolution on creating a Middle East zone free of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction."
Washington's unwillingness to advance nuclear disarmament in the Middle East seems to contradict repeated promises from President Obama to move towards a nuclear-free world. In 2009, Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize largely for such promises to accelerate the global disarmament process.