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Commitment to WMD-free Middle East in doubt as NPT conference ends

More than 150 nations agreed on a nuclear pact Friday aimed at strengthening the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty after the United States and Arab governments agreed to convene a 2012 conference to promote the elimination of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the Middle East. But even before foreign diplomats completed their speeches welcoming the ...

More than 150 nations agreed on a nuclear pact Friday aimed at strengthening the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty after the United States and Arab governments agreed to convene a 2012 conference to promote the elimination of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the Middle East.

But even before foreign diplomats completed their speeches welcoming the pact, the White House said it might not even take place because Israel, the region’s only nuclear power, and Iran, which is suspected of pursuing its own nukes, are unlikely to participate.

"I don’t know whether the conference will even happen," said Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for weapons of mass destruction. Samore said that the nuclear pact, which the U.S. supported, contained one major flaw: It singled out Israel, but not Iran, in the section dealing with a Middle East weapons-free zone. "We will not support a meeting that puts Israel in that kind of position."

Samore said that Vice President Joseph Biden and National Security Advisor James Jones warned Arab ambassadors in a meeting Tuesday that "if you insist on mentioning Israel in the Middle East section you’re going to make it much more difficult for Israel to come to this conference and for the United States to meet its commitment to organizing this conference. The political symbolism of mentioning Israel in this way is very destructive. It’s very likely to jeopardize this conference taking place."

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Mary Beth Sheridan and I wrote in the Washington Post.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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