VIENNA - The U.S. envoy to the U.N. atomic watchdog urged Arab states on Monday to withdraw a resolution calling on Israel to sign an anti-nuclear arms treaty, warning it would send a negative signal to Middle East peace talks.
Arab countries, backed by Iran, are seeking to build on a victory at an assembly meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency last year when they narrowly won support for a non-binding resolution calling on Israel to join the Non-Proliferation treaty.
They are expected to propose a similar text to this year's meeting of the 151-nation assembly starting on Sept. 20, diplomats say.
The United States says that zeroing in on Israel, widely believed to be the region's only nuclear power, could jeopardise an Egyptian-proposed conference in 2012 to discuss creating a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said it may also have an impact on the relaunched, U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We need to send a positive impulse to that broader peace process, not a negative one," he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation governing board, which takes place in the week before the assembly session.
Israel and the United States see Iran as the region's main nuclear proliferation threat, accusing it of seeking to develop atomic weapons. Tehran rejects the charge.
Israel has never confirmed or denied having atom bombs under a policy of ambiguity to deter its many regional foes.
It condemned last year's resolution urging it to accede to the 40-year-old nuclear NPT, saying it was backed by adversaries that question its right to exist.
Israel, which would have to forswear atomic arms and place all its nuclear facilities under the IAEA's watch if it signed the NPT, says full Middle East peace is a condition for it to join.
The United States alarmed Israel in May by backing Egypt's initiative for the 2012 conference, but the Obama administration has since pledged to keep the Jewish state from being singled out.
Davies said the priority was to make the 2012 conference possible and this would not happen by continuing to "bludgeon" one member state, referring to Israel.
"In order for 2012 to succeed all countries have to show up ... right now there is one country that has very little incentive to do that because of the way they are being made a pariah in this process," he said.
"We have been working with the Arab League but also other partners to urge them to withdraw the Israeli nuclear capabilities resolution to spare the (IAEA assembly meeting) another fight," Davies added.
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Charles Dick)