Israel slams new Arab move at UN atom meeting

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VIENNA, Sep 19 (Reuters) Israel today criticised a fresh Arab bid at a UN atomic watchdog meeting to brand it a threat while those denying its right to exist -- an allusion to Iran -- were bent on developing nuclear weapons.

The Jewish state is widely assumed to have the West Asia's only nuclear arsenal, though it has never confirmed or denied it. Iran denies seeking atomic energy for bombs rather than electricity as it says but its inclination to secrecy has raised strong suspicions in the West.

Diplomats said efforts were under way at a 149-nation International Atomic Energy Agency assembly to find consensus wording on two Arab-backed resolutions and avoid divisive votes.

The week-long meeting ends on Friday.

At last year's assembly, Western nations foiled a similar attempt by Arab and Islamic states to declare Israel a threat but joined an 89-2 vote for a milder resolution calling for full IAEA safeguards on nuclear work in all West Asia states.

Arabs revived the ''Israeli nuclear capabilities and threat'' resolution this year, a measure demanding Israel use atomic energy only for peaceful ends, join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and help create a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ).

Egypt, representing the Arabs, has refloated the safeguards measure with two new clauses said by diplomats to have angered the United States, European and other Western nations as well.

One clause urges all nations in the West Asia, pending creation of a NWFZ there, not to develop or test nuclear arms or allow them to be deployed on their soil. The other urges big nuclear arms powers not to thwart a NWFZ in the region.

''Both (draft resolutions) are politically and cynically motivated and have nothing to do with the IAEA's objectives or mandate,'' Gideon Frank, Israel's atomic energy commission director, told the annual IAEA General Conference.

''We can hardly remain oblivious to intensive efforts by some in our region to develop WMD (weapons of mass destruction)..., accompanied by sustained denial of the very legitimacy of our sovereign existence and calls for our destruction,'' he said, alluding to Iran's Islamist leadership.

Calling on IAEA members to reject the resolutions, Frank said this would help support UN Security Council sanctions resolutions meant to stop Iran's nuclear activity.

Similar resolutions pushed each year at the assembly since 1991 stalled every time in committee until last year when resentment surged over Israel's devastation of south Lebanon in a month-long war with Hizbollah.

Arab and Islamic states have long seen ''double standards'' in the West's pressure on Iran to shelve its nuclear energy programme while Israel faces none despite a stack of UN resolutions urging it to scrap its presumed atomic arsenal.

Frank said a regional NWFZ was a ''noble goal'' in principle but unwise as long as some neighbours continued not to recognise the Jewish state, with Iran openly calling for its elimination.

Arab diplomats point to a chronic imbalance of power in the Middle East caused by Israeli might and say it encourages others to seek mass-destruction weaponry.

REUTERS RC BST0111

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