VIENNA — Muslim countries at a 151-nation conference demanded Friday that Israel open its nuclear program to international purview, asserting that its undeclared arsenal is a threat to Mideast peace.
Unlike in recent years, however, Arab states did not push for a resolution directly targeting Israel by name after such an attempt was narrowly voted down at last year's International Atomic Energy Agency general conference.
And with few exceptions, the tone of the verbal attacks on the Jewish state appeared less confrontational. A planned IAEA meeting in November would bring Arab nations and Israel to the table to explore what can be learned from other regions that have set up zones free of weapons of mass destruction.
As in past years, the conference did pass a resolution calling on all Middle East states to adopt the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in an indirect demand on Israel, the only country in the region not bound by the treaty.
But even Israel did not oppose that document, abstaining instead of voting against it after failing to have a specific paragraph that effectively singled out the Jewish state without naming it struck from the document.
In comments echoed by other Arab states before and after the vote, Syrian nuclear chief Ibrahim Othman said Israel's refusal to join the nonproliferation treaty and throw open its nuclear facilities to IAEA perusal "is a threat ... to the security and stability of the Middle Eastern states."
"The international community must bring real and genuine pressure to bear on Israel," Othman said.
Egyptian chief delegate Khaled Rahman Shamaa, speaking for developing nations – a group traditionally supporting the Islamic bloc – urged the meeting to address the nuclear imbalance allowing "one party to threaten its neighbors and the region."
Iranian delegate Reza Pourmand, meanwhile, chastised "the Zionist regime," asserting that Mideast peace and stability will remain out of reach "while the nuclear arsenal of this regime continues to threaten the region and beyond."
Both Iran and Syria are the focus of IAEA investigations. While Muslim countries view Israel as the greatest nuclear threat, the Jewish state along with the U.S. and other Western nations sees Tehran – and to a lesser extent Damascus – as the main problem.
Both nations deny wrongdoing. But Iran is suspected of secret work on nuclear weapons and is under U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to mothball a program that can produce reactor fuel and fissile warhead material.
Syria has been reported by the agency's board to the U.N. General Assembly after IAEA chief Yukiya Amano assessed that Syria tried to secretly build a plutonium producing reactor until it was destroyed four years ago by Israeli warplanes.
Alluding to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls to destroy Israel, Israeli delegate Ehud Azaulay said his country cannot meet Islamic nations' demands in "a region where threats to annihilate states still remain."
He also condemned "Israel bashing" in an allusion to the paragraph in the Middle East resolution that Israel failed to have removed.
Deputy Israeli nuclear chief David Danieli told The Associated Press that the Arab decision not to push for a specific anti-Israeli resolution this year was "a positive signal." Beyond a repeat at next year's conference, he said his country wanted to avoid renewed debate on Israel's nuclear capabilities.
(This version CORRECTS Updates with Iranian comment, corrects writethru sequence, adds byline.)