Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Nuclear Program Blocks U.S. Backed Non-Proliferation Initiative

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Nuclear Program Blocks U.S. Backed Non-Proliferation Initiative

Article excerpt

Israeli Nuclear Program Blocks U.S. Backed Non-Proliferation Initiative

By Eugene Bird

The Clinton administration is having a particularly difficult time with the number-one recipient on its world-wide foreign aid list, Israel, over the number-one issue on the American world-wide foreign policy agenda, nuclear non-proliferation.

One of Secretary of State Warren Christopher's produest claims in his Jan. 21 foreign policy address at Harvard University was that thre states that had inherited nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union had become or were on the way to becoming nuclear-free.

Christopher also cited the U.S. agreement with North Korea as having prevented a full-scale development of atomic weaponry by that rogue state. And Christopher noted that South Africa also had given up its nuclear program and is destroying its tiny nuclear stockpile. Christopher's problem in referring to South Africa was to avoid mentioning that the formerly racist regime had acquired much of the technology from Israel, whose scientists also had collaborated with South Africans in testing their bomb over the South Atlantic.

Asked by a student about the recent visits by Secretary of Defense William Perry to Egypt, Israel, Pakistan and India, keyed to ending nuclear proliferation, Christopher avoided a straight answer. He did not say, for example, that before it renews its adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for the second time, Egypt is insisting that the U.S. press Israel to sign the treaty for the first time. The treaty comes up for renegotiation and signature in April.

The Egyptian position, which it is making known to other Middle East states, is undercutting efforts by President Bill Clinton to get 85 of the 169 original non-pro-liferation signatories to sign on again for an indefinite treaty aimed at banning atomic weapons and research on the subject in all of these states. The Clinton administration would like to have Israel sign on, but already is making apologies for Israel's refusal to do so. "We understand why Israel, surrounded with neighbors dedicated to her destruction, may not be able to do so right now," said one administration official. "We understand why the peace process must come first."

But Egyptian leaders do not share that opinion. They maintain instead that the peace process cannot continue unless Israel agrees to halt its nuclear weapons program. "Egypt should realize that she has a real interest in this NPT, quite aside from Israel," the U.S. official argues. "There are neighbors of hers [Libya?] who are seeking atomic weaponry." Asked whether Egypt might be penalized with an aid cutoff if she refused to renew the NPT, the official said that was not being considered.

Given the almost universally observed but unspoken policy in the Congress that Israel must not be criticized, even on this issue, it is possible that some legislators may seek to withdraw some portions of its aid if Egypt continues its independent campaign to get Israel to sign the NPT or, at the least, join in a fissile materials stand-down. This would require Israel to close its aging Dimona reactor and end nuclear weapons testing.

Will American policy makers bite the Israeli bullet?

For now, no one at the State Department or elsewhere in Washington will talk about the embarrassment the U.S. may face in April if Israel does not make some move to shut down its nuclear program, the largest bootleg proliferation program in the world. …

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