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UN Nuclear Conference Criticizes Israel Over Its Atomic

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VIENNA, Austria — A U.N. nuclear conference indirectly criticized Israel on Saturday for refusing to put its atomic program under international purview, but the Jewish state evaded a Muslim-led attempt to link it to nuclear proliferation in the Mideast.

As in past years at the International Atomic Energy Agency's general conference, Iran, Israel's most outspoken foe, spearheaded the verbal attack on Israel, which is widely considered to have nuclear arms but has a "no tell" policy on the issue.

Chief Iranian delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh said Israel's nuclear capabilities represent a "serious and continued threat to the security of neighboring and other states."

And he took the U.S. and other Western backers of Israel to task for their "shameful silence" on what he said was the menace posed by Israel's atomic arsenal.

The meeting of 145 nations voted for a resolution urging all nations to open their nuclear activities to outside inspections and work toward the establishment of a Mideast nuclear weapons free zone.

With Israel the only country in the region considered to have atomic arms, passage of the resolution constituted indirect criticism of the Jewish state.

The resolution called on all nations in the Middle East "not to develop, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons," and urged nuclear weapons states to "refrain from any action" hindering the establishment of a Mideast zone free of nuclear weapons.

The United States and the European Union managed to block an effort by Muslim nations and their supporters to submit a resolution more directly critical of Israel and its "nuclear capabilities."

Although last year's meeting followed a similar pattern, the votes for and against the two motions reflected shifting dynamics on the issues.

On Saturday, delegations had so far voted 82-0 for establishing the Mideast nuclear weapons free zone, with Israel, Syria and the U.S. among those abstaining. Last year it was 53 in favor, the U.S. and Israel against, and 47 abstentions.

Part of the shift reflected Israel's success in pushing for the resolution to include language that was indirectly critical of Iran and Syria _ two nations under IAEA review for possibly hiding undeclared nuclear activities.

The narrow defeat of the second motion more directly critical of Israel indicated that support for the Islamic nations was growing, particularly among developing countries. Of those present, 46 nations voted against the motion, 43 voted for it and seven abstained.

The issue of establishing a Mideast nuclear weapons free zone has been on the IAEA conference agenda for 16 years, though the vote Saturday was only the third on the topic.

The meeting usually tries for consensus, and the balloting reflected increased politicization over the Middle East dispute and, more recently, concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Muslim nations consider Israel the region's main nuclear threat. The United States and its allies see Iran's defiance of the U.N. Security Council in its development of technology that could be used to make the bomb as the greatest menace to Middle East peace.

Iran says it wants to perfect the technology _ uranium enrichment _ not to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads but for fuel to generate power.

Iran was not formally on the agenda of the six-day meeting, which was scheduled to end later Saturday. But concerns about its nuclear defiance figured prominently in comments from many Western delegations _ something that Soltanieh criticized.

"Iran is not the issue of this conference," he told The Associated Press, adding that "Israel is the only case" in the context of a proliferation danger in the Mideast.