U.S. Going Soft on Israeli, Indian & Pak Nukes?

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President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan at Blair House in Washington, Apr. 11., Credit:White House Photo/Pete SouzaNuclear Abolition News | IPS
By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - When a much-ballyhooed two-day nuclear security summit ended in Washington early this week, there were several lingering questions that remained unanswered - even by the host of the high-powered 47-nation gathering, U.S President Barack Obama. [P] | ARABIC | DUTCH | JAPANESE PDF TEXT VERSION | PORTUGUESE | SPANISH

Will the United States call on Israel to declare its nuclear weapons programme and will it push the Jewish state to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?

Will the Obama administration try to convince India and Pakistan to sign the NPT?

On all three counts, the United States made little or no progress at an unprecedented summit meeting where the primary focus was to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

"The summit reached useful agreements on such matters as securing nuclear materials that could be used in nuclear explosives within four years; strengthening security at nuclear facilities; and reducing the amount of bomb-usable highly enriched uranium in use and circulation," said John Burroughs of the New York-based Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy.

"But, given the presence in Washington of 47 governments, most represented by heads of state, it missed a unique opportunity to make a start on ridding the world of nuclear weapons altogether," he added.

As most news reports rightly pointed out, Obama "ducked" the questions on Israel, when he pointedly told reporters: "As far as Israel goes, I'm not going to comment on their (nuclear weapons) programme."

"What I'm going to point to is the fact that consistently we have urged all countries to become members of the NPT. So there's no contradiction there," Obama said.

"And so whether we're talking about Israel or any other country, we think that becoming part of the NPT is important. And that, by the way, is not a new position. That's been a consistent position of the United States government even prior to my administration," he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu himself "ducked" the summit at the eleventh hour apparently due to concerns that his country's secretive nuclear weapons programme could be a subject of discussion at the meeting. But it wasn't.

The three undeclared nuclear powers - India, Pakistan and Israel - have all refused to sign the NPT, as against the five declared nuclear powers, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

A month-long review conference of the NPT is scheduled to take place at the United Nations beginning May 3.

Burroughs told IPS: "As to Israel, President Obama, as is the usual U.S. position, did not comment on whether it has nuclear weapons."

What did not come up is that progress on achieving a Middle East zone free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons will be key to whether the NPT Review Conference in May yields an agreed final outcome, he pointed out.

One proposal now being seriously explored, Burroughs said, is that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would convene a conference to launch a process regarding such a zone.

"The decision to indefinitely extend the NPT in 1995 would not have taken place absent a resolution on a Middle East zone to be promoted by the three depository parties for the NPT, the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia," he added.

Asked about Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, Obama went soft. "I don't think Pakistan is playing by a different set of rules," he said. "I think we've been very clear to Pakistan, as we have been to every country, that we think they should join the NPT."

But he pointed out that he has "actually seen progress over the last several years with respect to Pakistan's nuclear security issues".

"I want to lower tensions throughout South Asia when it comes to nuclear programmes," Obama said. "And I think that the fact that Prime Minister (Yousuf Raza) Gilani came here, signed on to a communique, and made a range of commitments that will make it more likely that we don't see proliferation activities or trafficking occurring out of Pakistan is a positive thing."

"Do we have a lot more work to do? Absolutely. But I think that Prime Minister Gilani's presence here was an important step in assuring that we do not see a nuclear crisis anywhere in South Asia," Obama added.

In contrast, Obama took a relatively tough stand against North Korea (and its nuclear testing) and Iran (accused of trying to develop nuclear weapons).

Burroughs told IPS that both India and Pakistan are producing fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

Pakistan is bringing two new weapons-grade plutonium production reactors online, and is blocking commencement of negotiations on a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

At the summit, President Obama reportedly talked with Gilani about the FMCT, but gained no commitment to allow negotiations to begin.

"Nor did the summit itself deal with production of fissile materials for weapons," Burroughs noted.

When asked at a press conference about Pakistan's expansion of its nuclear programme, Obama said only that Pakistan has made commitments regarding prevention of proliferation activities like smuggling and that the U.S. position is that Pakistan should join the NPT.

Meanwhile, the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy said civil society will use the NPT Review Conference next month to remind delegates that, since each nuclear weapon state, whether inside or outside the NPT, seems determined to maintain its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against every other such state, the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world will remain a chimera.

This will remain so, as long as the elimination of all nuclear weapons is not approached in a universal mode, as required by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion of 1996.

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