updated 8/27/2005 10:54:32 PM ET 2005-08-28T02:54:32

Egypt’s foreign minister on Saturday turned down a request from the world’s nuclear watchdog to sign a treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons, saying Israel should first join a separate agreement calling for a halt to the spread of atomic bombs.

The refusal by Israel, which is believed to possess hundreds of nuclear warheads, to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has also made the Middle East more insecure, Ahmed Aboul Gheit was quoted by Egypt’s semiofficial Middle East News Agency as saying.

Aboul Gheit’s comments came in a letter to Tibor Toth, the new executive secretary of the commission that oversees the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

“Egypt’s ratification of the (test ban) treaty is linked to the extent of developments that may occur in regional and international circumstances, including the possibility that Israel may join the NPT,” MENA quoted the minister as saying.

All Middle Eastern counties except Israel are signatories to the NPT. Israel is believed to have commenced its nuclear program in the 1950s, but has never denied nor confirmed the widely held view that it possesses atomic bombs.

Arab states have demanded the international community do more to force Israel to relinquish its nuclear arms.

Egypt runs small-scale nuclear programs for medical and research purposes and has previously denied that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapons program.

Under the NPT, states without atomic arms pledge not to develop them, and five with the weapons — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — undertook to eventually eliminate their arsenals. The nonweapons states, meanwhile, are guaranteed access to peaceful nuclear technology.

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