PM Netanyahu
PM NetanyahuIsrael news photo: file

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided Thursday night to cancel his previously announced participation in the Nuclear Security summit scheduled to take place in the United States next week. Instead, the prime minister will send a delegation headed by Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor.

The cancellation followed rumors that Arab and Muslim states planned to demand that Israel sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as have 189 countries. Turkey and Egypt were among those countries allegedly planning to use the conference to pressure Israel.

Israel is believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear weapons. Israeli leaders have traditionally declined to confirm or deny that Israel possesses nuclear arms, and have avoided signing non-proliferation pacts.

Next week's conference is to be headed by US President Barack Obama. Obama hopes to obtain widespread agreement on protecting nuclear arms from terrorists and reducing nuclear arsenals in countries which have them.

While the summit is not scheduled to address concerns relating to individual states, the subject of nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, who will not be among the 40 countries expected at the conference, will probably come up in bilateral talks. Several Muslim countries have used concerns over Iran's nuclear program to demand that the entire region be made free of nuclear arms.

Netanyahu's cancellation came less than two days after he announced that he would be attending the summit. On Wednesday, the prime minister had dismissed concerns that Israel would come under pressure at the event. “I'm not concerned that anyone would think that Israel is a terrorist regime. Everybody knows a terrorist and rogue regime when they see one,” he said.

Netanyahu's aides said Friday that the switch was standard procedure. “At international conferences on this subject, Israel is usually represented by a ministerial and expert delegation. In line with this, the prime minister decided Israel would be represented by deputy prime minister Dan Meridor,” they said.

Other sources hinted that the Prime Minister, still smarting from Obama's reception at the White House recently, did not entirely trust White House assurances that there would be no discussion of Israel's nuclear arms situation at the conference and the administration's adherence to a 1969 understanding with Washington that it agreed with Israel's ambiguity and would not pressure Israel on the subject.

Many other countries still plan to send their top leaders. Among those scheduled to attend are Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Chinese President Hu Jintao.