(Reuters) – Iran criticized the United States on Monday for announcing that talks on banning atomic arms in the Middle East would not take place as planned this year, accusing it of causing a “serious setback” to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The U.S. State Department said on Friday that the mid-December conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction would not occur and did not make clear when, or whether, it would take place.
Iran, which is accused by the West of developing a nuclear weapons capability, said this month it would participate in the meeting that had been due to take place in Helsinki, Finland.
Asked about the U.S. announcement, Iranian nuclear envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told state broadcaster Press TV from Vienna:
“It is a serious setback to the NPT and this is a clear sign that the U.S. is not committed to the obligation of a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Even if the talks eventually occur, Western diplomats and experts expect little progress any time soon due to the deep-rooted animosities in the region, notably the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israeli concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
Washington feared the conference could be used as a forum to criticize its ally Israel – widely believed to be the volatile region’s only nuclear-armed state – a concern only likely to have increased after eight days of fierce Israeli-Palestinian fighting that ended with a ceasefire last week.
Israel, which says say Tehran is the Middle East’s main proliferation threat, had not said whether it would attend.
Iran and Arab states often say Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal poses a threat to Middle East peace and security.
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