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Syria Urges UN to Declare Mideast a Nuclear Free Zone - 2003-12-29

Syria is urging the U.N. Security Council to declare the Middle East a nuclear free zone. A Syrian-sponsored draft resolution is aimed at highlighting Israel's alleged nuclear capability.

Three days before its two-year Security Council term expires, Syria introduced a resolution calling on Middle East countries to renounce weapons of mass destruction. The draft resolution urges all countries to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, known as the NPT, and other relevant arms accords.

Syria's U.N. ambassador Faisal Mekdad told reporters the draft is aimed at Israel, which is suspected of having nuclear weapons. "It is directed at everybody, but as you know, all Arab countries without exception have ratified the NPT. Israel is the only party in the region that has not ratified the NPT, and almost all other non-proliferation treaties, so it is applicable to everybody, but in fact Israel is the real address in this regard, whether we like it or not, because Israel has all these kinds of weapons," he said.

Israel does not confirm or deny having weapons of mass destruction. But in an interview with an Israeli newspaper this month, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed elBaradei was quoted as saying "we work on the assumption that Israel has nuclear capability".

The General Assembly has already passed a resolution on the issue. But General Assembly votes are non-binding.

The Security Council is said to be sharply divided on the matter. At Monday's closed-door meeting, several countries - including the United States and Britain - expressed reservations about the Syrian-backed measure. Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham called it "wrong on substance, wrong in timing."

Syrian Ambassador Mekdad confirmed that Pakistan, a nuclear weapons state which currently holds a Security Council seat, also has concerns. That could possibly leave the draft resolution short of the nine votes necessary for passage, should it come to a vote.

Syria first circulated the controversial "nuclear free zone" resolution last April, but put it aside after a number of countries expressed reservations.

The United States recently accused Syria of having chemical weapons, a charge Damascus denied. Syria has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but not the chemical or biological weapons accords.