The United States on Friday blocked a global document aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons, saying Egypt and other states tried to "cynically manipulate" the process by setting a deadline for Israel and its neighbors to meet within months on a Middle East zone free of such weapons.
The now-failed final document of a landmark treaty review conference had called on the U.N. secretary-general to convene the Middle East conference no later than March 2016, regardless of whether Israel and its neighbors agree on an agenda.
Israel is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has never publicly declared what is widely considered to be an extensive nuclear weapons program. A conference might force Israel to acknowledge it.
Since adopting a final document requires consensus, the rejection by the United States, backed by Britain and Canada, means the entire blueprint for global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation for the next five years has been blocked after four weeks of negotiations. The next treaty review conference is in 2020.
That has alarmed countries without nuclear weapons, who are increasingly frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of nuclear-armed countries to disarm. The United States and Russia hold more than 90 percent of the estimated 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world today.
Amid a growing movement that stresses the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, Austria announced that 107 states have now signed a pledge calling for legal measures to ban and eliminate them.
The U.S. comments Friday came after a top State Department official was dispatched to Israel this week for intense talks, as Israel protested the idea of being forced into a conference with its Arab neighbors without prior agreement on an agenda.
Israel had been furious when the U.S. at the treaty review conference five years ago signed off on a document that called for talks on a Middle East nuclear-free zone by 2012. Those talks never took place.
The language on the final document rejected Friday was "incompatible with our long-standing policies," said Rose Gottemoeller, the U.S. under secretary of state for arms control and international security.
She named Egypt as being one of the countries "not willing to let go of these unrealistic and unworkable conditions."
Egypt later said it was extremely disappointed and warned, "This will have consequences in front of the Arab world and public opinion."
Iran, speaking for a group of more than 100 mostly developing countries, said it was surprised to see the U.S., Britain and Canada willing to block the entire document in defense of a country that it said has endangered the region by not agreeing to safeguards for its nuclear program.
Israel has been a fierce critic of the current efforts of world powers to negotiate an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes only.
Gottemoeller also pointed out that the 2010 mandate to hold a conference on a Middle East nuclear-free zone has now effectively expired. The head of the Russian delegation, Mikhail Ulyanov, noted the setback, saying it was "a shame that an opportunity for dialogue has to be missed, perhaps for a long time to come."