Egypt hits at EU for UN nuclear vote abstention

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CAIRO, Sep 21 (Reuters) Egypt criticized the European Union today for failing to support a UN atomic watchdog resolution calling on all West Asia nations to renounce atomic weapons -- a clear reference to Israel's undeclared arsenal.

In New York, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned of a potential nuclear arms race in the West Asia, saying Israel was as much a concern as Iran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed the resolution with a 53-2 vote yesterday, but 47 abstentions by Western and developing states exposed reservations that the move politicized the UN agency's work.

The Egyptian foreign ministry signaled out EU states in its criticism for the lack of Western support for the nonbinding resolution, which highlighted Arab frustration about Israel's presumed nuclear might.

''The European Union movement was a clear contradiction with the principles it claims to defend regarding nuclear disarmament and the prevention of nuclear proliferation,'' the official West Asia News Agency quoted a ministry statement as saying.

Israel is widely believed to have the West Asia only nuclear arsenal. The Jewish state has never confirmed or denied it.

'A SCARY THING' Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank in New York, Aboul Gheit warned about a potential nuclear arms race in the region.

''If there would be the spread of nuclear weapons to this region, I do not think that it will be limited to one or two players,'' Aboul Gheit said in answer to a question about Iran's nuclear plans.

''It is a scary thing to allow the West Asia to witness the mushrooming of one or two or three nuclear capable states,'' he said. He declined to answer whether, if Iran were to obtain a nuclear weapon, Egypt would seek the same capability.

''That is a very tricky question ... that cannot be answered yes or no,'' he told the event in New York, where he will attend the UN General Assembly next week.

The United States and other Western countries suspect Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon though Tehran denies it.

Aboul Gheit said Egypt's call for a nuclear-free West Asia was not addressed only to Iran. ''I'm talking about Israel,'' he said.

A similar resolution urging all Middle East nations to adopt IAEA safeguards on nuclear work passed overwhelmingly at last year's IAEA general assembly, with only Israel and the United States opposed, as they were again yesterday.

Egypt reintroduced the resolution this year seeking full consensus but attached two new clauses that prompted Israel to demand a vote and European, other Western and non-aligned developing nations to abstain.

One clause urged all nations in the West Asia, pending creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ), not to make or test nuclear arms or let them be deployed on their soil. The other urged big nuclear arms powers not to foil such a step.

European diplomats said their missions abstained because, while they backed universal IAEA non-proliferation controls in the Middle East, the amended resolution flouted the agency's non-political ethos and sought to isolate a member state.

REUTERS AK PM01015

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