Mubarak, Abbas discuss latest developments on indirect negotiations

Israeli information about Obama’s consent to postpone Jerusalem issue to end of negotiations

Western showdown with Iran in NPT review conference

5 major powers stress nuke-free Mideast

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas held consultations on Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak days before the expected resumption of Palestinian-Israeli indirect peace talks.

The meeting came two days after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Egypt for talks with Mubarak and as US Middle East envoy George Mitchell was in the region to re-launch the indirect peace negotiations.

Abbas and Mubarak discussed "preparing suitable conditions" for the indirect talks, the Egyptian official news agency MENA reported.

Mitchell, who arrived in the region on Monday, was expected to meet with Netanyahu later Wednesday and Abbas on Friday, with the indirect talks widely expected to start shortly afterwards.

However, Abbas on Tuesday expressed doubts about the planned launch of talks after a West Bank mosque went up in flames, for which he blamed Jewish settlers.

Abbas has refused to directly negotiate with Israel until it ends settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel conquered and annexed in 1967 and Palestinians want as a capital for a future state.

He was set to begin indirect US-brokered talks with Israel in March, but the plan was scuttled after Israel announced it would build 1,600 new homes for settlers in east Jerusalem.

Israel has offered to restrict settlement construction in the West Bank, but not in east Jerusalem.

The Arab League on Saturday backed the indirect talks after the Palestinians said they received US guarantees. The PLO is expected to endorse the talks on Saturday.

An Arab League official said Washington assured the Palestinians that Israel would not go through with its plan to build the new homes in east Jerusalem.

Direct Palestinian-Israeli peace talks broke off in December 2008 when the Jewish state launched a devastating war in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire.

Despite claims by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Jerusalem is "non-negotiable", senior White House advisor David Axelrod has admitted that Jerusalem will be an issue of discussion between Israel and the PA, however he added that it would be discussed at the end of the talks.

"Jerusalem as an issue can't be the first issue for negotiations. It probably will be the last," said Axelrod.

But, a Palestinian National Authority spokesman said on Wednesday that the issue of Jerusalem city can't be delayed to final phase of peace talks between Israel and the PNA.

"The Palestinian leadership can't accept any delay of the issue of Jerusalem," said Nabil Abu Rdineh, spokesman of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

His words came following reports that the United States, which is set to lead indirect negotiations between the two sides, decided to delay talks on Jerusalem.

In a meeting with Jewish media in the United States on Tuesday, David Axelrod, an adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, said that Jerusalem issue would be discussed at the end of the negotiation.

Abu Rdineh also stressed that even partial solutions that may bypass the current status of Jerusalem "would not be accepted as well."

"Without Jerusalem, there will be no Palestinian statehood nor a peace deal," he added.

The peace talks between Israel and the PNA has been stalled in 2008 and the Palestinians insist that to resume the talks Israel must stop building more Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem or expand the existed ones.

In a bid to push the Middle East process, Washington proposed to lead proximity talks between the two sides to pave the way for a restart of the face-to-face discussions. The negotiations are likely to begin next week, according to local reports.

The two sides have negotiated since the Oslo agreement in 1993, but failed to agree on the final-status issues that include Jerusalem, settlements, borders, refugees, water and security.

Meanwhile, Abu Rdineh said Obama administration has not informed the PNA on its plans to postpone talks on Jerusalem, adding that the coming days "would be a test to Washington's power and credibility in pushing for a serious and real negotiations."

On the other hand, the month-long Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference got off to a good start this week except for an early bump caused by a sharp US-Iran clash.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turned up as the lone head of state at the conference, gaining the spotlight and media attention.

But delegates from nine western countries left the hall during his remarks Monday and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton put a dent in Ahmadinejad's rounds of applause by the remaining delegates, vowing to defeat Tehran's nuclear activities, which the West suspects are aimed at having weapon capability.

The US-Iran clash early in the NPT conference may worsen if the 15-nation Security Council were to adopt in coming weeks new sanctions against Tehran. If that happens, Iran's position in the NPT talks would be more entrenched.

The 2005 review ended without results because of the fight between Iran and the US, backed by Russia and France. The conference held every five years to assess progress on nuclear disarmament, non- proliferation and civilian nuclear energy has been widely welcomed by governments, which sent mostly foreign ministers and ambassadors to New York with clear scripts and demands.

Clinton denounced Ahmadinejad's "same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations against the US and other parties at this conference" after he addressed the NPT meeting, which runs through May 28.

She said Iran has been the only country found by the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors to be in "non-compliance" with nuclear safeguards and obligations.

Ahmadinejad in turn said Clinton's remarks were "insults" to his country and warned that US- Iranian relations will suffer if the UN Security Council were to enact additional sanctions against his country.

Ahmadinejad said if Iran were a nuclear power, other countries would have shown more respect.

He said he remains open to negotiations with the US, but showed no signs of backing down on proceeding with plans to produce more uranium that he said would be used in medical treatment. Western governments and the IAEA fear that the real purpose could be nuclear weapons.

Iran has not accepted a nuclear-fuel swap worked out by the IAEA whereby it would send low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for fuel for a civilian nuclear power reactor.

In contrast to previous review conferences in 2000 and 2005, the NPT meeting this time around heard early concrete proposals to move more decisively to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

The meeting got a further boost when Washington's Defense Department revealed Monday that the US has 5,113 nuclear warheads, down from more than 22,000 at the height of the Cold War era. Nuclear transparency was added to the NPT debate.

France followed by announcing "for the sake of transparency" that it has 300 warheads, half of what it had 15 years ago.

"We totally dismantled our ground-to-ground component, reduced our airborne component and our submarine component by 30 per cent," French Ambassador Eric Danon said. France has also halted production of uranium and plutonium and dismantled related facilities.

Of the world's five recognized nuclear powers, France, Britain and Russia have signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The US and China have signed, but have yet to ratify it, which requires that national legislatures adopt laws to implement the treaty. CTBT remains ineffective because some nuclear weapon states have not yet ratified it.

Speakers have also called for strengthening the nuclear non- proliferation regime by tightening the NPT's 11 articles.

Germany's minister of state for foreign affairs, Werner Hoyer, warned of a "real danger" if Iran and North Korea were allowed to continue their nuclear paths because that would lead to a new nuclear arms race.

North Korea showed no sign of attending the UN conference. It declared itself to have withdrawn from the NPT in 2002.

"We must be clear about one thing - the debacle of the last review conference (in 2005) must not be repeated," Hoyer said.

China's Ambassador Li Baodong called for the early entry into force of CTBT. But his country, like the US, has not ratified the treaty.

Nuclear-weapon states and those that don't have those weapons all called for implementing the NPT's article 6, which demands that all NPT parties negotiate "in good faith" effective measures to end the nuclear arms race and to carry out nuclear disarmament under international control.

But the five nuclear powers said they will retain nuclear deterrence policies for as long as nuclear weapons exist on earth.

The Non-Aligned Movement, which comprises 118 countries, said nuclear deterrence must be eliminated because it contributes to nuclear arm race.

The United States and the world's four other major nuclear powers say they are ready for "concrete steps" to help move the Middle East toward establishing a regional nuclear weapons-free zone.

After 15 years of inaction, this long-dormant Arab idea, intended to pressure Israel to give up its secretive atomic arsenal, has been revived at the month-long conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

But how far the United States, Israel's strongest supporter, is willing to go is not yet clear. Washington's chief arms control official said the lack of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace remains an obstacle.

"The question is, how do you do that in the absence of a peace plan?" Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said Wednesday of the "nuke-free" zone idea.

But in answer to a reporter's question, she said the U.S. has been working "for months" with Egypt on the issue.

Washington also has been discussing it with the Israelis, said another Western diplomatic source, who asked for anonymity since he was discussing other countries' contacts.

"The Five" — the treaty-recognized nuclear powers United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — took their position in a joint statement of nonproliferation and disarmament goals read to the conference Wednesday, in its third day, by Russian arms negotiator Anatoly I. Antonov.

Of the proposal for a Mideast free of weapons of mass destruction, he said, "We are ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the review conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction."

In 1995, another of these twice-a-decade conferences adopted a resolution calling for a Mideast zone free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Such a zone would join five other nuclear-free regions globally — Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the South Pacific and Latin America.

It was support for that 15-year-old resolution that the five powers reaffirmed on Wednesday.

Although the U.S. has long endorsed the idea, it has never pushed for action. In her speech to the nuclear conference on Monday, however, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington would support "practical measures for moving toward that objective."

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, said the U.S. and Russia have developed a joint approach — an unspecified compromise plan in place of a new Egyptian proposal to convene negotiations on a Mideast zone in 2011.

Diplomats said one option being discussed is appointment of an official "special coordinator" to study and consult with governments about ways forward. Arab states have been showing greater interest in nuclear power technology, worrying some observers that Iran's ambitious nuclear program, which the West alleges is aimed at weapons-making, will prompt neighboring nations to launch their own weapons programs.

One Arab spokesman hinted at this potential for weapons proliferation to more Mideast states.

If the nuke-free zone idea falters, governments are studying "alternatives that would be available to the Arab states," Lebanese diplomat Nawaf Salam, speaking for the Arab Group, told the conference Wednesday.

Rapid movement toward a treaty establishing a weapons-free zone is highly unlikely.

Israel, which doesn't officially confirm the existence of the Mideast's only nuclear arsenal, of perhaps 80 warheads, has long maintained that a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace must first be reached before it would consider such a region-wide regime.

Under the 40-year-old NPT, nations without nuclear weapons pledged not to acquire them, while the five powers pledged to eventually eliminate theirs.

Israel is one of four nations that rejected the treaty — with nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and North Korea, which has a weapons-building program.