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Iran Readies For Battle At Nuclear Arms Ban Talks

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- Iran has attacked the United States ahead of a major meeting on the troubled global antinuclear arms treaty, slamming U.S. cooperation with Israel and India while ignoring President Barack Obama's offers of dialogue.

Four working papers prepared for the meeting by Iran and obtained by Reuters show Tehran is redoubling its efforts to draw attention away from its own nuclear program by turning the spotlight on Washington for what it says are clear breaches of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, Western diplomats say.

The signatories of the 1970 NPT, which is aimed at halting the spread of nuclear arms and demands that those with atomic arsenals take steps to get rid of them, gather on May 4 to prepare for a major conference in 2010 that many countries hope will result in an overhaul of the landmark treaty.

They want the nuclear powers to make good on disarmament pledges and agree on a plan to end loopholes that have enabled states like North Korea, which withdrew from the pact in 2003 and tested a nuclear device in 2006, to develop atomic weapons under cover of civilian nuclear energy programs.

Iran, UN diplomats involved in the conference say, has gone on the offensive ahead of the meeting to keep the focus away from its nuclear program, which the United States and its allies say is a covert quest for atomic weapons. Tehran denies the charge and has refused to halt uranium enrichment despite three rounds of UN sanctions imposed by the Security Council.

In the four papers Iran's delegation submitted for the May 4-15 NPT conference, Tehran says Washington is in clear breach of the treaty by developing new atomic weapons and providing nuclear aid to Israel and India. Neither country has signed the NPT, but India has nuclear weapons and Israel is presumed to have built up a nuclear arsenal.

Iran also criticizes Washington, Britain, and France, for working to prevent it and other developing countries from having complete nuclear energy programs. Diplomats from developing nations say Iran has many supporters on this issue due to fears among poorer states that the rich Western powers want to keep their monopoly on nuclear technology.

But Western diplomats say it may be harder for Iran to divide treaty members than at other NPT meetings in recent years. Obama, in a turnaround from the George W. Bush administration, last month called for a "world without nuclear weapons," new disarmament talks with Russia and more nuclear cooperation with developing countries.

'Obligations Overlooked'

Iran makes no mention in its NPT papers of the new U.S. stance, nor of the fact that Obama has offered direct talks with Iran nearly 30 years after Washington severed ties with Tehran over a hostage crisis.

"Iran is very worried that Obama's commitment to disarmament...will make it harder to portray the Americans as the enemy," a Western diplomat said. "The same goes for Obama's engagement policy. So [Iran] want to come out punching."

Under the NPT, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China were allowed to keep their atomic arsenals but were obliged to enter into talks on getting rid of them.

"The risk of proliferation posed by certain nuclear-weapon states is the most essential and immediate danger threatening the nonproliferation regime," Iran says in one paper, adding that this should be the focus of this week's NPT meeting -- not the "risks of proliferation of non-nuclear weapon states."

"Nuclear disarmament obligations have been totally overlooked and access to peaceful nuclear materials and technologies have been denied," Iran says.

Western diplomats say this is an attempt to draw attention away from what they said was Iran's own violations of the NPT.

Iran also criticizes the "nuclear-related cooperation of the United States with the Zionist regime" and says the endorsement of the U.S.-India nuclear deal by the world's top producers of atomic technology had "severely damaged" the NPT by showing that those outside it can get special treatment.

The point of the two-week NPT meeting is to clear a path for a monthlong review conference next year, which will take stock of the pact and possibly amend it. Delegates aim to agree on an agenda and make recommendations for the 2010 conference.

The last NPT review conference in 2005 was a failure. Delegates had hoped to agree on a plan of action to repair loopholes in the treaty that enable countries to acquire sensitive atomic technology and to hear from the five major nuclear powers that they are committed to disarming.

But it descended into procedural bickering led by the United States, Iran, and Egypt, and accomplished nothing. Washington tried to focus attention on Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, while Iran condemned the failure to disarm and Egypt pointed to Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal.

Western diplomats hope to pick up where the abortive 2005 conference left off but worry that Iran wants another debacle and will work to keep the pact's 189 signatories divided.