Iran, Israel and Arab states took part in a secret meeting about prospects for an international conference on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, diplomats said on Tuesday, a rare such gathering of regional adversaries.
They gave no details about the Oct. 21-22 meeting in a hotel in the Swiss village of Glion near Montreux. An Israeli official said various envoys set out their national positions, but Israel had no direct communication with Iranian and Arab delegates.
But an Arab diplomat told Reuters: “That they were there, the Israelis and Iran, is the main thing.” A new meeting would be held before the end of the year, the diplomat said.
It was not clear who chaired the session but a senior Finnish diplomat, Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava, is charged with organizing the Middle East conference. There was no immediate comment from his office on Tuesday, or from Iran.
The discussions were also attended by representatives of the United States and some Arab states, the Arab diplomat added, without naming them.
Israel is widely believed to possess the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, drawing frequent condemnation by Arab countries and Iran, which say it threatens peace and security.
U.S. and Israeli officials see Iran’s atomic activity as the main proliferation threat and say a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East is not feasible without a broad Arab-Israeli peace and verifiable limits on the Iranian nuclear programme.
Iran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian energy, not for potential nuclear weapons fuel as the West suspects.
An Egyptian-proposed plan for an international conference to lay the groundwork for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed in 2010, co-sponsored by Russia, the United States and Britain.
But Washington said it would be delayed just before it was due to be held late last year, and no new date has been announced. Britain, another sponsor, has said it hopes it can still take place in 2013.
The June election of Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who has pledged to try to resolve the decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities, as the new Iranian president has raised hopes of a peaceful settlement with world powers.
Iran and the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia are to hold a new round of negotiations in Geneva on Thursday and Friday.
Israel has warned against what it calls an Iranian “charm offensive” and accuses Tehran of diplomatic stalling while it builds up the capability to produce nuclear weaponry.
The Israeli official, speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, described the Oct. 21-22 meeting as a “preparatory session, of sorts”, ahead of the planned Middle East conference.
“There were no contacts between our representative and Arab or Iranian representatives, not direct nor indirect. The meeting was mainly technical,” the Israeli official said.
“The conference itself has not yet been scheduled. As far as we are concerned, it is important to uphold the principle that any resolution be accepted with full consensus.”
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Dan Williams in Jerusalem.