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Middle East nuclear talks called off

Proposed high-level talks between Israel and its Muslim neighbors on a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction have been called off, The Associated Press, citing diplomats, reported Saturday. 

The diplomats said the U.S., one of the organizers, would likely make a formal announcement soon, stating that with tensions in the region high, "the time was not opportune" for such a gathering, AP reported.

The meeting, to be held in Helsinki by year's end, was on shaky ground since it was agreed to in 2010 by the 189 member nations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The decision to scrap it cast doubt on the significance of the NPT conference and its attempts every five years to advance nonproliferation.

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The diplomats demanded anonymity Saturday because they were not authorized to divulge the cancellation ahead of the formal announcement, AP reported.

However, last Monday, The Guardian newspaper of London reported that Israeli and Iranian officials were taking part in two days of talks at a nuclear non-proliferation meeting in Brussels. One participant called the European Union Non-Proliferation Consortium as "respectful and positive," the Guardian reported.

The Brussels meeting was intended to pave the way for a full international conference in the next few months on banning nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East, the Guardian reported.

The handful of officials from Israel and Iran involved in the two-day event billed as an academic seminar included senior officials who had permission of their respective governments to take part in an informal discussion with representatives from about 10 Arab states about exploring the possibility of holding a United Nations-sponsored conference on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

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Iran has been under international pressure and U.S.-led sanctions to curb its nuclear program, which it says is peaceful.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran are scheduled to meet Dec. 13 in Tehran for a new round of negotiations, an IAEA spokesman said Friday.

This story includes reporting by The Associated Press.

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