Arab states are signalling that they will refrain from targeting Israel over its assumed nuclear arsenal at a UN atomic agency meeting next week, diplomats said on Thursday, a move that if confirmed would be welcomed by the West.
Two Arab diplomats appeared to substantiate the development, telling Reuters it should be seen as a "confidence-building measure" and a "good gesture from Arab states" to foster wider-ranging efforts to create a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.
As in 2009 and 2010, Arab nations had been expected to submit a resolution at a 19-23 September annual gathering of member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) summoning Israel to join a global anti-nuclear treaty.
The Jewish state is widely believed to be the only nuclear weapons power in the volatile Middle East although the West accuses Iran of covertly seeking the capability to develop atomic bombs.
The United States and its Western allies say such a non-binding but symbolically significant resolution singling out Israel for blame could undermine broader steps aimed at banning weapons of mass destruction in the region.
Two Western diplomats told Reuters that Arab ambassadors to the IAEA had told them this week that they now did not plan to put forward the text this year. "If true, obviously we would welcome it," one of them said.
But one European ambassador said there had not yet been a formal announcement from the group of Arab nations at the IAEA about the issue, suggesting their position might still change before next week. "I'm still a bit nervous," he said.
Israel has never confirmed or denied having nuclear weapons under a policy of ambiguity to deter numerically superior foes. It is the only country in the Middle East outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Arab states backed by Iran say Israel's stance poses a threat to regional peace and stability. They want Israel to subject all its nuclear facilities to IAEA monitoring.
Israel says it would only join the pact if there is a comprehensive Middle East peace with its long-time Arab and Iranian adversaries. If it signed the NPT, Israel would have to renounce nuclear weaponry.
The United States and Israel regard Iran as the Middle East's main nuclear proliferation threat. Tehran says its nuclear programme is for purposes of electricity generation only, but its restrictions on IAEA inspections and stonewalling of IAEA investigations have fanned suspicions abroad.
At the 2009 annual General Conference of IAEA member states, they approved in a close vote an Arab-proposed resolution expressing concern at "Israeli Nuclear Capabilities".
Brought up again last year, it was defeated at the conference after a bruising diplomatic battle, in which Washington and its allies lobbied intensively against the text.
Arab states already in June asked for "Israeli Nuclear Capabilities" to be put on the agenda of this year's meeting, and it may still be debated. But they have not circulated any draft resolution on the issue, diplomats say.
One Western envoy said the Arab states may have decided not to submit it this year as it was likely to be voted down again.