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WASHINGTON ó Egypt and the United States have sought to draft a joint proposal for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.

Officials and analysts said President Barack Obama has approved efforts of a joint resolution as a means of pressuring Israel to give up its purported nuclear arsenal. They said the resolution was not meant against Iran, which has denied a nuclear weapons program.

"The president is not happy with Israel's nuclear capabilities," former U.S. envoy to the United Nations, John Bolton, said. "I think he would be delighted if Israel gave up its nuclear weapons."

In an interview on May 4 on Israel Army radio, Bolton said Obama's predecessor, George Bush, refused to work with Egypt or any other country for a so-called nuclear-free Middle East. Israel has refused to confirm or deny reports that it possesses nuclear weapons.

"Egypt and the Obama administration are negotiating right now on an Egyptian proposal for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, which certainly sounds good," Bolton, who served as Bush's leading nonproliferation official, said. "Except when you think about it, there is only one country that resolution is targeted at and that is Israel."

"When I was in the Bush administration we refused to even talk about these kinds of ideas," Bolton said. "I'd be quite worried about the possible outcome there."

Over the last 40 years, the United States has unofficially adopted Israel's refusal to discuss its purported nuclear arsenal. Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty until peace comes to the Middle East.

The United Nations has hosted a month-long meeting on NPT. The session has been dominated by Egypt's recruitment of a bloc to press for the implementation of a 1995 resolution for a nuclear-free Middle East.

"We want to see every country be a signatory to the NPT," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on May 3. "We believe strongly in this. Thatís why we are taking steps which have never been taken by any administration before."

Israel has become the focus of attention at the NPT meeting, sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano has asked member-states to propose ways to press Israel to join NPT.

"It would be helpful to me if Your Excellency could inform me of any views that your government might have with respect to meeting the objectives of the resolution," Amano said in an April 7 letter addressed to the foreign ministers of the 151 member states.

On May 5, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States called for a nuclear-free Middle East. The five nuclear powers, without mentioning Israel, called on all states in the region to sign the NPT.

"We urge those states that are not parties to the treaty to accede as non-nuclear-weapon states and pending accession to the NPT, to adhere to its terms," a statement by the five powers said.

Bolton did not rule out a U.S. campaign against Israel's purported nuclear weapons arsenal. He said the next few months could see an increase in U.S. and other international pressure on the Jewish state.

"The only unknown answer at this point is exactly how much pressure he [Obama] would exert on Israel to do just that," Bolton said. "Part of that pressure is being exerted right now by even considering the possibility of a conference on a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East."



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