|The US said the resolution risked souring newly restarted peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis [EPA]
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, has rejected an Arab-proposed resolution calling on Israel to join a global anti-atomic arms treaty.
The general assembly of the 151-member IAEA blocked the resolution at its meeting in Vienna on Friday. Fifty-one member states voted against the resolution while 46 voted in favour and 23 abstained.
Israel had warned the UN nuclear watchdog that an Arab-led push to target the Jewish state in a resolution could deal a "fatal blow" to future co-operation on boosting Middle East security.
"Adopting this resolution will be a fatal blow to any hope for future co-operative efforts towards better regional security in the Middle East," Ehud Azoulay, Israel's IAEA envoy said, shortly before the vote.
The delegate made the statement during a tense debate on the draft resolution, which called on Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Arab representatives said Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal threatens regional peace and stability.
The Jewish state is the region's only country outside the NPT.
The United States had urged Arab states to withdraw the non-binding resolution, saying it could derail broader efforts to ban such arms in the Middle East and also send a negative signal to the relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"It is...unfortunate that this resolution is being pursued at a time when peace talks in the Middle East are being restarted after a long delay,"
Glyn Davies, the US ambassador, said.
"The divisiveness and confrontation caused by this resolution threatens these talks just as they are being rekindled," he told the assembly.
Israel says it will not consider joining the NPT until there is comprehensive Middle East peace. It would have been forced to renounce nuclear weaponry if it had agreed to sign the pact.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian chief delegate, whose country was among the most ardent backers of the resolution, claimed victory despite the motion's defeat, telling reporters the vote and surrounding discussion kept pressure on Israel, which is commonly considered to be the only Middle Eastern nation to posses nuclear weapons.
Still, the result was disappointing to supporters of the resolution, who had hoped to build on the momentum of last year, when the IAEA assembly overrode Western objections to pass a similar resolution directly criticising Israel and its atomic programme for the first time in 18 years.
Arab states say there cannot be peace in the Middle East until Israel gives up nuclear arms.
Israel has never confirmed nor denied having atomic bombs, under a policy of ambiguity to deter its Arab and Islamic foes.
Israel and the United States regard Iran as the Middle East's main proliferation threat, accusing it of seeking to develop atomic weapons in secret, a charge rejected by Tehran.