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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Israel-Arab spat at nuclear talks
Dimona plant in Israel (aerial photo)
Israel is thought to have about 200 nuclear warheads at Dimona
Israel has described as "cynically motivated" an attempt by Arab countries to declare its alleged nuclear capabilities a menace to peace.

Arab nations made the demand at the annual conference of the United Nations nuclear watchdog in Vienna.

They have made similar requests every year but failed to win support.

Israel is the only Middle East country widely believed to possess nuclear weapons but it refuses to acknowledge or deny their existence.

'Alarming proliferation'

Fifteen Arab countries and Palestinian representatives have demanded the Israeli issue be put on the agenda at the general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) involving 139 countries.

"Israel alone possesses nuclear capabilities, which are undeclared and not subject to international control and which constitute a permanent threat to peace and security in the region," their letter says.

Both actions are politically and cynically motivated
Gideon Frank
Israeli nuclear chief

A separate Egyptian resolution calls for measures to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.

The head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission Gideon Frank told the meeting both initiatives were "politically and cynically motivated".

Mr Frank said his country would not be able to support a resolution on a nuclear-free Middle East - that does not mention Israel by name - unless the Arab attempt to brand Israel a threat was dropped.

Of the "many alarming proliferation developments in the Middle East... none of these involve Israel," he said in a veiled reference to Iran's nuclear activities.

'Useful' policy

With a programme dating back to the early 1950s, Israel is widely believed to have become a fully-fledged nuclear armed power.

It is widely believed to have a large stockpile of nuclear warheads, but it refuses to confirm or deny that it has a nuclear deterrent.

Just before a visit by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei in July, Israel released photos of its nuclear plant in the Negev desert for the first time.

The images appeared on a new website for the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. Analysts believe Israel has about 200 warheads at the plant in the town of Dimona.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Israel's "policy of ambiguity on nuclear arms has proved its worth, and it will continue".

"Israel has to hold in its hand all the elements of power necessary to protect itself by itself.

Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), designed to prevent the global spread of nuclear arms.

As a result, it is not subject to inspections or the threat of sanctions by the IAEA.

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