The PM made his remark to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director, Muhammad al-Baradai, on Thurday.
The nuclear watch-dog chief quoted Sharon as saying discussions could be part of the “road map” for regional peace – a plan that has been stalled for months.
Presumed to be the region’s only nuclear power, Tel Aviv has long said it is committed to a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, but that peace must be achieved first.
Change of policy?
But it was not clear if Sharon’s comments marked a change of policy when al-Baradai said Israel had taken “a good first step” towards disarmament at the end of his three day trip.
“What I’ve achieved at least is to get the Israeli government at the level of the prime minister to commit himself to work in the future toward a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East,” he told academics and reporters.
Analysts were sceptical of any change. “Al-Baradai wanted Israel to give him something, a concession, with which to go to Tehran,” said Israeli defence expert Yossi Melman.
Regional super power
International experts calculate Tel Aviv has 100-200 nuclear warheads at its disposal, based on estimates of plutonium reprocessed at the Dimona reactor.
But unlike Iran, Israel has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not have to permit IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Al-Baradai has warned that there is a “security imbalance” across the Middle East causing “the complete erosion of the legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime”.