Israel drops objection to start of nuclear material talks

"Israel shares the significance of the moment," Israel Ambassador Yosef Lamdan told the 61-member conference after it agreed to set up a negotiating committee. But he added that Israel has some concerns about the pact.

Israel will not object to the U.N. efforts to launch talks on halting production of fissile material, such as plutonium and enriched uranium used in nuclear bombs. This was made clear in a statement that the Prime Minister's Office issued Tuesday.

That communiqué, however, said Israel still has "fundamental problems" with the treaty.

Israel's defense policy has traditionally been based on never publicly stating whether or not it has nuclear capability and leaving the possibility as a deterrent. And Israel has been the only member of the 61-state disarmament conference that had not agreed to join negotiations on the proposed treaty.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been urged by President Clinton not to oppose the efforts of the U.N. panel. The premier said in a statement that while he would not oppose the talks, Israel still had "problems of principle" with any accord that would halt the production of plutonium and enriched uranium.

Israel is concerned that the treaty will call for verification procedures — which would mean that the Jewish state would have to open its Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev Desert to international inspectors.

Israel reportedly hopes that if it does eventually sign the treaty, American officials would find a way to enable Israel to retain its policy of deliberate ambiguity regarding its nuclear capability.