Israel’s prime minister has declared that his country is prepared to ratify a treaty banning nuclear tests, a senior UN official has said.
Lassina Zerbo, who heads the UN organisation created to implement the treaty, said Benjamin Netanyahu considers the issue of ratifying the treaty a matter of “when, rather than if”.
Israeli ratification would move the treaty closer to taking effect, leaving only seven of the 44 countries that must ratify it for the pact to go into effect.
Mr Zerbo, who heads the Vienna-based Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), has been meeting with Mr Netanyahu.
He considers ratification by Israel a key step towards a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East and said the commitment by Mr Netanyahu was a first for the prime minister after protracted discussions on a technical level between the CTBTO and Israeli experts.
While the Israeli prime minister did not commit himself to a specific time-frame for ratification, Mr Zerbo said that is “normal in diplomacy”.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has 196 member states – 183 that have signed the treaty and 164 that have ratified it.
But the treaty has not come into force because it still needs ratification by eight countries that had nuclear power reactors or research reactors when the UN General Assembly adopted the treaty in 1996. These are the United States, China, Iran, Israel, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
A statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office cited the prime minister as saying that “Israel supports the treaty and its goals” but ratification “depends on the regional context and the appropriate timing”.
The development follows recent statements by Mr Netanyahu that he is quietly forging closer ties with moderate Sunni Arab states as part of an alliance against Islamic extremists.
Last month, he publicly praised the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 Saudi-led plan that offered Israel peace with the Arab world in exchange for a full withdrawal from all territories captured in the 1967 Mid-east war. Mr Netanyahu said there were “positive aspects” to the plan. He later said he could not accept the plan in its current form and would never return to Israel’s pre-1967 lines.
Mr Netanyahu is interested in a closer alliance with the moderate Sunnis, both as a counterweight to the rising influence of Iran and the Islamic State group and other extremist groups, and in hopes of putting pressure on the Palestinians in any future peace talks.
His offer may have been a gesture towards moderate states like Egypt and Gulf countries, which have long opposed Israel’s nuclear programme.
That opposition has resulted in Arab states pushing for a resolution critical of that programme in recent years at annual conferences of the International Atomic Energy Agency. But a summary of an Arab League meeting in Cairo earlier this year says Arab countries will “refrain from submitting” the resolution at this year’s meeting in September.