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– Hans Blix
Former IAEA Director-General
IAEA Members Reject Israel Resolution
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Kelsey Davenport

A resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program, revived after a two-year hiatus, failed to pass the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month.

The nonbinding resolution, sponsored by a group of 18 Arab states, would have called on Israel to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state and put all of its nuclear sites under comprehensive IAEA safeguards. The measure, referred to as “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” on the IAEA agenda, failed by a vote of 43-51 on Sept. 20, the last day of the conference.

Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, an Egyptian official and head of the Arab League’s mission to the IAEA, told Reuters on Sept. 20 that the world needs to know about Israel’s nuclear capabilities and that its nuclear arsenal is “not playing a constructive role.”

Israel does not publicly admit to possessing nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to have an arsenal of approximately 80 warheads. Israel has not joined the NPT, but is a member of the IAEA, and its nuclear research activities are subject to IAEA monitoring and verification.

In a Sept. 18 statement at the conference, Shaul Chorev, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said that introducing the resolution “inflicts a serious blow to any attempt to embark on a regional security dialogue.” He called on states to “condemn the Arab initiative” and “decisively defeat this motion.”

The United States voted against the resolution. In a statement delivered after the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Joseph Macmanus said that the United States regretted that the resolution had been brought to a vote or even discussed at the IAEA.

A diplomat who attended the conference told Arms Control Today on Sept. 26 that about 30 European countries also voted against the resolution, as did Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

China, Russia, and South Africa were among the countries that voted with the Arab League. More than 60 IAEA members abstained or were absent during the vote.

A similar resolution passed the IAEA conference for the first time in 2009, after being voted down for several years. An attempt the next year failed. The Arab states refrained from putting the measure on the agenda in 2011 and 2012, saying they hoped that Israel would be more likely to attend a regional meeting on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East if it did not feel singled out for condemnation in the region.

As part of an accord that was crucial to reaching consensus on the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the treaty parties agreed to hold a meeting on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East by the end of 2012. The meeting was set for Helsinki last December, but the conveners, which included Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, announced that the conference would be postponed because some states from the region had not yet agreed to attend and because there were disagreements over the agenda for the meeting. (See ACT, December 2012.)

At the time of postponement, Israel was the only country not to have publicly committed to attending a meeting.

A June 12 memorandum and letter submitted by Oman’s ambassador to the IAEA, Badr bin Mohamed Al Hinai, on behalf of 18 Arab states and the Palestinian territories asked that the resolution be placed on the agenda of the IAEA conference. According to the memorandum, the “recent course of events” failed to meet the expectations of the Arab states, motivating them to pursue passage of the resolution.

In his Sept. 20 statement, Macmanus said that the United States would continue to work toward “constructive dialogue” on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and called on “all concerned states” to “engage directly and on the basis of consensus and mutual respect” to establish the zone.