JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is ready to discuss a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East as part of future peace talks, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Thursday.

Mohamed ElBaradei, on a three-day trip to Israel, said Sharon gave a commitment ``to work in the future toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.'' The two men met Thursday in Jerusalem.

It was not immediately clear when such talks might take place. But ElBaradei called Sharon's comments ``a very good first step'' that ``will send a glimmer of hope through the region.''

Sharon's office did not immediately comment.

ElBaradei is on the trip in efforts to persuade the country to loosen its long-standing taboo on discussing its nuclear capabilities.

Israel is believed to be the only country in the region to have nuclear missiles ready to launch.