May 6, 2009 / 7:04 AM / 11 years ago

Israel brushes off call to sign nuclear arms pact

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel brushed off Wednesday a U.S. call to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, saying it saw no indication that the Obama administration wanted to revise the secrecy around the assumed Israeli atomic arsenal.

Israeli pilots walk past an Apache helicopter at Ramon Air Base in southern Israel November 19, 2008. Israel on Wednesday displayed air power it could use to attack Iran's suspected nuclear weapons project if diplomacy fails to persuade the Islamic Republic to halt uranium enrichment. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen

“As far as we are concerned, there is no change to the close dialogue we have with Washington,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy said in response to the call by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller on Israel to join the NPT.

Levy’s statement did not elaborate. Such language by Israeli officials in this context refers to Washington’s decades-old practice of not asking its ally to come clean on its nuclear capabilities and accept international regulation.

Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only atomic weapons but neither confirms nor denies this under an “ambiguity” billed as deterring foes while avoiding the sort of provocations that can trigger arms races. Arab countries and Iran see a double-standard in the U.S.-sanctioned reticence.

Speaking Tuesday during a meeting at the United Nations of the 189 NPT signatories, Gottemoeller said “universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea ... remains a fundamental objective of the United States.”

She did not say whether the Obama administration planned new steps to press Israel on the issue.

The NPT is designed to facilitate access to peaceful nuclear energy while placing safeguards against the production of bombs, such as mandatory U.N. inspections.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Israeli official said NPT membership had not stopped Iraq and Libya from trying to develop nuclear weapons.

“Its effects on Iran have (also) failed to meet the eye,” the official told Reuters. “It is therefore hard to understand why there should be such an insistence on a treaty that has proven its inefficiency.”

Israel and the West regard Iran’s nuclear program as a potential threat, although Tehran insists its purpose is to produce nuclear energy only.

According to declassified American documents cited by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists magazine, under Richard Nixon the United States knew Israel had developed nuclear weapons but opted against demanding transparency. In turn, Israel agreed not to test a bomb nor declare itself nuclear-armed, scholars say.

The arrangement allows Israel to skirt a U.S. ban on funding states that proliferate weapons of mass-destruction. It can thus enjoy some $3 billion (1.99 billion pounds) in annual defence aid from Washington.

Writing by Dan Williams and Allyn Fisher-Ilan

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