The United States, Russia, Britain, France and China on Wednesday voiced support for making the Middle East a nuclear-arms-free zone, which would mean Israel would have to scrap any atomic bombs it has.
"We are committed to a full implementation of the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East and we support all ongoing efforts to this end," the five permanent UN Security Council members said in a unanimous statement issued at a conference taking stock of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The 1995 resolution adopted by signatories of the landmark arms control treaty called for making the Middle East a zone without nuclear arms. The Jewish state has never confirmed or denied having nuclear arms.
"We are ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the (NPT) Review Conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction," said the statement, which was obtained by Reuters.
Egypt, which chairs the powerful 118-nation bloc of non-aligned developing nations, circulated a proposal to the 189 signatories of the treaty calling for a conference by next year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear arms in which all countries in the region would participate.
The United States and Russia, with the support of the other three countries allowed to keep nuclear weapons under the NPT, are negotiating with Egypt to come up with an acceptable compromise proposal, Western diplomats say.
Although Israeli ally the United States supports the principle of the proposed zone and Egypt's call for a conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday the time was not yet ripe for establishing the zone.
Without naming specific countries, the statement also urged those outside the NPT to join it. Israel, like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, never signed the treaty but is presumed to have a sizable atomic arsenal.
"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," the five powers said.
Israel has tried to fend off Egyptian-led scrutiny of its arsenal by urging Cairo to view Iran's atomic ambitions as the regional threat, an Israeli official has said. Egypt says both Israel and Iran are nuclear threats to the region and wants action on both countries.