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WASHINGTON, April 4: In a surprising move, the United States has compared Israels nuclear programme with that of India and Pakistan and has urged the three nations to give up their nuclear weapons. Twice in the past two weeks, US State Department officials also urged India, Pakistan and Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and forego the use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons.

The statements were made by two mid-level State Department officials in advance of the NPT Review Conference, scheduled to open in New York on May 2. The purpose of the conference is to evaluate implementation of the non-proliferation treaty and determine its future course.

Comments regarding Israels weapons were apparently made as a way of putting the issue of Israeli nukes on the conferences agenda. The comments appeared to deviate from the Bush administrations policy, which is to refrain from using terminology that confirms Israels status as a nuclear nation.

The most recent statement came from Jackie Wolcott Sanders, who is President Bushs special representative for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. In an essay titled How to Strengthen the NPT, Ms Sanders mentions Israel, along with India and Pakistan, within the context of enforcing universal NPT adherence. She noted, however, that this was not likely in the foreseeable future.

She wrote: The Review Conference should reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states. Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states would have to forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities to join the treaty. At the same time, we recognize that progress toward universal adherence is not likely in the foreseeable future.

The United States continues to support the goals of the Middle East resolution adopted at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, including the achievement of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, she added.

Another statement, using almost identical language, was made by Mark Fitzpatrick, the US acting deputy assistant secretary for nuclear proliferation, at a recent meeting of the Organization of American States Committee on Hemispheric Security in Washington. Mr Fitzpatrick said: The conference should also reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states. Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states should forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities.

Mr Fitzpatricks comments regarding Israel were made just after proclaiming, Iran and North Korea must not be permitted to violate the NPT without consequences.

The statements of the two officials contrast with President Bushs own reference to the NPT in a speech he made on March 7, when he called for enforcing the treatys provisions on NPT members, which include both Iran and North Korea. Mr Bush did not refer to his policy regarding non-member states, which include Israel, Pakistan, and India.