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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 23:28 GMT
Mid-East call on Israel to disarm
President Hosni Mubarak
Egypt wants Israel to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Several states in the Middle East have responded to Libya's pledge to abandon weapons of mass destruction programmes by demanding that Israel do the same.

Egypt urged Israel to eliminate any banned weapons, while Iran said the Israelis should be forced to follow Libya's example.

Similar sentiments were expressed by the Gulf states of Qatar and Bahrain.

Israel has never confirmed that it has nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to possess dozens of nuclear warheads.

It is an example to all nations that political differences can be resolved peacefully
Ahmed Bishari, Tripoli, Libya

The Israelis say they would not be under greater pressure to disarm even if Libya followed though on its promises.

But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled added: "Israel's position is very clear - that once there is peace and security in the region, the Middle East should be a nuclear-free zone."

Secret talks

Meanwhile, further details have been emerging of the secret negotiations with Libya.

Libya's leader Colonel Gaddafi
Gaddafi's government: turning swords into ploughshares

US officials have revealed that American and British intelligence officers were whisked to a series of late night meetings with Colonel Gaddafi over several months.

The talks were cloaked in secrecy, with agents reportedly changing cars in the streets of Tripoli to avoid detection on their way to the Libyan leader.

The Libyan leader initiated the talks and is reported to have co-operated in drawing up proposals for disarming and allowing UN inspections.

Officials say he also provided information about Libyan weapons programmes that Western intelligence agencies had been unaware of.

Some reports suggest the negotiating position of the US and Britain was strengthened when materials destined for Libya's illegal weapons programmes were seized.

The previously undisclosed operation is understood to have been carried out under the Proliferation Security Initiative launched by the US in September with the aim of halting the flow of WMD.

No details have emerged of what was found, or where it came from.

Arab indignation

President Mubarak of Egypt on Sunday gave his reaction to the Libyan announcement.

"We welcome the Libyan decision," he said. "Israel must also eliminate its weapons of mass destruction."

Egypt has for many years been urging Israel to ratify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and make the Middle East a region free of WMD.

Iran, which recently agreed to allow snap inspections of its own nuclear facilities, expressed satisfaction with Libya's decision.

"Iran welcomes any step taken by any country to dismantle weapons of mass destruction," said foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.

"But it is the time for the world to push for Israel's disarmament, as the main threat to the region," he added.

Libya has said its decision to abandon secret efforts to build an atomic bomb and chemical weapons was driven by a need to develop its economy and boost the living standards of its people.

The BBC's David Loyn
"The leader who was once called a mad dog by an American president is now being called a statesman"

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"This decision by Colonel Gaddafi will make the region and the world more secure"

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