Arab arms control talks which opened in Doha on 3 May were overshadowed by a dispute about the first stage, a declaration of principles, intended to set the agenda for future negotiations, delegates said.

The talks, attended by representatives of 40 states, involved Israel, the Palestinians and some Arab countries, with US and Russian co-sponsors. Syria and Lebanon boycotted the talks.

Differences among the 14 Arab delegations had shifted the limelight from Israel’s refusal to put its nuclear weapons programme under scrutiny, an issue that dominated the opening of the conference, delegates said.

Arab delegates said Saudi Arabia, speaking on behalf of the GCC, objected to the proposed draft as ‘too political’ and argued that an agreement on such an important subject should not be rushed.

The declaration proposes that all sides should pursue ‘full and lasting relations of peace and openess’, a clause that some Arab delegates said could lead to pressure for early ties with Israel. Gulf Arabs insist this can only happen after Israel makes peace with all its immediate neighbours.

The head of the Saudi delegation, Prince Turki Bin Mohammad, said that Saudi Arabia opposed the first part of the draft agreement which put arms control in the context of the overall Middle East peace process. He said later clauses, which would tackle the prevention of conflict and establish a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction, were acceptable.

Egypt was the main advoctate of the draft, arguing that the broad principles were necessary to define the task ahead. The Palestinians said if political aims were mentioned, they should include their right to self-determination and the ending of the occupation.