A Nuclear and Chemical Weapons Ban Might Have Averted the Gulf Crisis

By Gaffney, Mark | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 31, 1990 | Go to article overview

A Nuclear and Chemical Weapons Ban Might Have Averted the Gulf Crisis


Gaffney, Mark, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


As the US prepares to go to war, if necessary, over oil and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, it is useful to note that it might all have been averted had the US not squandered a major opportunity earlier this year to reduce Mideast tensions. Though it's probably already been forgotten by most Americans, last April five Arab states, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and, independently, Syria, proposed to initiate negotiations toward a comprehensive ban on chemical and nuclear weapons for the Middle East.

It was a significant, perhaps unprecedented, proposal. Yet, one week later, it was rejected out of hand. Here's the exact wording of US State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher's April 13 response: "We have made clear that we oppose linking the elimination of chemical weapons systems to other issues or weapons systems."

Aside from the folly of passing up such an opportunity, the curious wording of the US rejection bears closer scrutiny. Interestingly, the statement did not even mention the word" nuclear." Based on my research for my book, Dimona: The Third Temple?, this conspicuous omission was anything but a fluke, and in fact was consistent with previous statements by high US officials, including President Bush.

Maintaining the Charade

Although US journalists have, on various occasions, referred to Israel's nuclear arsenal as a fact (as indeed it is), the White House has never done so, even to this day. The wording of the April 13 rejection main-trained this official US charade. After all, the US could hardly sit down with Arabs and Israelis to negotiate a ban on weapons that Israel officially does not even possess.

From the standpoint of the White House, of course, a truly even-handed arms ban that would rein in Israel was unacceptable for domestic political reasons. But the threat to US foreign policy posed by mere acknowledgment of the existence of an Israeli nuclear arsenal was even more fundamental.

This is because the United States has laws on the books that mandate a cut-off in aid to states engaged in clandestine nuclear proliferation. Such laws include the 1976-77 Symington/Glenn amendments of the Foreign Assistance Act, and Jimmy Carter's 1978 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act. Hence the State Department's logic in rejecting the latest Arab peace offer without so much as a passing mention of the single word most integral to it: "nuclear. …

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