Israel's Maariv newspaper has reported that representatives of several Arab states met with Israeli officials last week in Glion, Switzerland to start preparing for an international conference to push for a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) free zone in the Middle East.
According to the newspaper, representatives of Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, along with Arab ambassadors in Switzerland, joined the deliberations that were attended by Israel's Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jeremy Issacharoff, the conference coordinator Jacob La Ahaba, and representatives from Britain, the US and Russia. The newspaper pointed out that this is the first time Arab delegates have agreed to meet with Israeli delegates to discuss the issue of WMD.
A few weeks ago, Maariv also reported that Arab countries, especially Egypt, have been exerting pressure to hold the conference with a special focus on Israel's nuclear programme, especially at a time when the West is re-establishing relations with Iran and Russia following an America-Russian deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
According to the newspaper, US President Barack Obama initially agreed to hold the conference, which would be a follow-up to the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East in 2010, after pressure from Egypt and despite Israel's objections. However, the US, in coordination with Israel, has now decided to defer the conference due to the current political turmoil in the Middle East and in face of Russia's opposition.
Previously the Arab states had been refusing to hold preliminary meetings with Israel, fearing that the latter would seek to thwart an international conference or adopt an alternative approach through continued deliberations in Helsinki.
Meanwhile, Israel has argued that the current conditions are not appropriate for holding such a conference. A high level Israeli official reportedly said that: "As long as Iran continues to threaten to annihilate Israel, and until the Arab states sign a peace agreement with Israel, there is no place for such a conference."