Washington negotiator calls on Israel to sign nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty
• Move breaks US tradition of discretion over Israeli arsenal
• NPT comes up for review in 2010
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 May 2009 19.04 BST
A diplomatic row broke out today between the US and Israel after Washington's chief nuclear arms negotiator called on Israel to sign the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), breaking a US tradition of discretion over Israel's nuclear arsenal.
Israeli officials said they were puzzled by a speech to an international conference in New York by Rose Gottemoeller, an assistant secretary of state, who said: "Universal adherence to the NPT itself - including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea - also remains a fundamental objective of the United States."
By including Israel on a list of countries known to have nuclear weapons. Gottemoeller broke with normal US diplomatic practice. Since 1968 when the CIA reported Israel had developed a nuclear weapon , Washington has pursued a policy of not demanding transparency from its close ally, and in return Israel agreed not to test a bomb or declare its nuclear capability - a policy of "strategic ambiguity".
"As far as we are concerned, there is no change to the close dialogue we have with Washington," Yossi Levy, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, told Reuters. Privately, Israeli officials played down the importance of the NPT as a means of controlling proliferation.
Attempts to stop spread of nuclear weapons face a critical moment over the next year before the NPT comes up for review in 2010, at a time when North Korea has declared the resumption of its nuclear weapons programme, and fears over Iran's intentions threaten to trigger a Middle East arms race. Gottemoeller's speech was made at a meeting to prepare the way for next year's critical NPT review conference.
Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said that Gottemoeller had not changed the long-held US position - that all states should join the NPT. However, she spelt that position out more explicitly in relation to Israel.
Since Gottemoeller was appointed by Barack Obama last month to lead disarmament talks with Moscow, she has signalled much greater flexibility than the previous administration, telling the Russian Interfax news agency this week that the US was open to a significant compromise on the US missile defence scheme. Moscow had proposed to use relocate radar installations that are part of the US missile defence scheme in southern Russia or Azerbaijan rather than in Eastern Europe, so that Moscow would have greater confidence it could not be used against Russia. The Bush administration rejected the suggestion. Gottemoeller said Washington should consider it.