VIENNA (AP) — Israel and its allies fended off an Arab-led attempt Friday to censure the Jewish state's refusal to acknowledge that it possesses nuclear weapons and put them under international oversight.
The Jewish state is overwhelmingly considered to possess such arms but declines to confirm it. Its Arab neighbors say Israel's nuclear weapons threaten peace in the Middle East and miss few international opportunities to criticize it on that account.
Still, it was the first time in three years that a resolution critical of Israel was put to a vote at the annual conference of the U.N's International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. The Arab decision to do so reflected frustration over failed attempts to convene senior-level talks on banning weapons of mass destruction from the Mideast.
At the same time, more nations opposed the resolution than expected.
Ahead of the vote, diplomats said the motion would likely pass or fail by no more than one or two votes. But 54 nations voted against on Friday, while 43 backed the resolution and 32 abstained. The other 30 countries were absent during the vote.
One diplomat at the meeting said the outcome was the result of strong U.S.-led lobbying on behalf of Israel. The envoy, from a Middle East country, asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the diplomacy that preceded the vote.
Declaring that the vote had "no winners," U.S. chief delegate Joseph Macmanus said work would continue on starting Middle East dialogue on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
The Arab push had been a mainstay of most recent annual meetings of the 159-nation International Atomic Energy Agency, where it was usually narrowly voted down.
The resolution was not introduced in 2011 and 2012, in what the IAEA's 18 Arab members viewed as a concession to keep hopes alive of the Mideast weapons talks.
Efforts to convene such talks, co-sponsored by the United States, Russia and Britain, were called off late last year. While Syria's civil war, nuclear tensions with Iran, and other Middle East frictions were cited as the official motive, diplomats back then acknowledged that the real reason was the failure to bridge Arab-Israeli differences.
Analysts Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris said in an article published earlier this month that Israel has 80 nuclear warheads.
The Jewish state has long said that a full Palestinian-Israeli peace plan must precede any creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The Israelis describe Iran and its alleged work on nuclear weapons as the real regional menace.
Iran denies wanting such arms, while it and the region's other Muslim nations assert that Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal presents the greatest threat to peace in the region. They insist that Israel should declare such weapons and join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as part of any peace talks.
Describing his country's nuclear activities as peaceful, Iranian delegate Reza Najafi said it is Israel that poses "a serious and continuing threat to the security of neighboring states."
But Israeli delegate David Danieli suggested such criticism was meant to deflect attention from the "large quantities of chemical weapons held by Syria, or the fundamental challenge posed by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons."