Dangerous Nuclear Game in the Middle East

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Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Fareed Mahdy
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

ISTANBUL (IDN) - The Middle East panorama is now gloomier. The six-decade long conflict has been further aggravated by a dangerous nuclear game. Israel continues to refuse joining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The U.S. clogs all attempts to declare the Middle East an atomic free-zone. And the Arabs accelerate their nuclear rush.

Furthermore, the ongoing U.S. imposed round of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians seems to have entered a new dead end.

No wonder, the forced launch of this new negotiating round appears to be rather motivated by the U.S. democratic administration's efforts to counter-balance the Republican and neo-conservative strong electoral campaign for the November's legislative partial elections.

At the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) failed on Sept. 24 in Vienna to persuade Israel to become a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to submit its atomic facilities to the mandatory inspection. Israel is the sole Middle East atomic power.

ALLEGATIONS

The proposed resolution, promoted by Arab countries, the non-aligned nations and some Western states, has been blocked under heavy pressure from the U.S., which reportedly alleged -- oddly enough -- that such initiative may undermine the conference proposed by Egypt for 2012 to declare the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

Moreover, the U.S. called for the withdrawal of the proposed resolution, warning that it sends 'negative' message to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

For its part, Israel also strangely warned the IAEA meeting that the Arab-led efforts "to target Israel" imply a "fatal blow" to any form of cooperation for improving security in the Middle East.

The U.S. and Israeli allegations that the Arab and non-aligned states' insistence, backed by some Western countries, in demanding Israel to join the NPT, contrasts sharply with the Egypt-led position.

In fact, Cairo has systematically underscored that the non-accession by Israel to the NPT not only jeopardises security and peace in the region, but also makes them unviable.

At the end, and after a strenuous "give-and-take" negotiating exercise, 51 out of the IAEA 151 member states, voted against the resolution; 23 abstained, and 46 voted in favour of it.

In an immediate reaction to this failure, secretary general of the League of Arab States, Amre Mousa, stressed the same day from New York that the IAEA refusal to add Israel to the list of signatories to the NPT "poses many questions around the credibility" of this top UN specialised agency.

Mousa also underlined that Arab countries will continue their efforts to persuade the international community to make Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Arab states will raise their demands in this sense soon, he said.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty entered into force in 1970 and has been ratified so far by 189 countries, including Iran. By rejecting to join it, Israel also refuses to comply with the Treaty's three key pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of atomic energy.

THE BIG RUSH

Meanwhile, Turkey has joined the Middle East nuclear rush. Its parliament approved on July 13 a bill on an agreement with Russia for the construction of Turkey's first nuclear power plant in the coastal town of Akkuyu, in Mersin province. The project, worth 20 billion U.S. dollars, to finalise in four years, will be jointly operated by the two countries.

But at the same time, Turkey has also joined the Arab and non-aligned countries' chorus, by demanding a nuclear weapons free Middle East. Its president, Abdullah Gul, announced on Sept. 21 that he would call on the United Nations to achieve this objective.

"We want to see 'our' region completely free of nuclear weapons . . . this region must not be exposed to such dangerous arsenal," Gul stressed in his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 22.

Anyway, with the new Turkish nuclear move, a total of 13 Middle East countries -- plus Israel and Iran, are already running in the accelerated atomic race.

The Arab countries involved in such race are: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.

One of them, Kuwait, signed on Sept. 21 with Russia, a memorandum of understanding regarding nuclear cooperation. The agreement follows another that Kuwait reached only few days earlier, in addition to a previous one signed with France in April 2010.

Ahmed Bishara, secretary general of the national commission for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, stated that day that the memorandum his country signed with Russia aims at "building the network of nuclear reactors and needed infrastructure in Kuwait", in addition to capacity building and training in the nuclear sector.

The Kuwaiti "network of nuclear reactors" comprises the building and operation of four of them by the year 2022.

Another one, the uranium-rich Jordan, engaged in talks with French nuclear giant Areva and Japanese firm Mitsubishi to acquire technology to enable it build its first nuclear power plant. Furthermore, Amman had announced in late July 2010 an agreement with South Korea to launch its first nuclear research reactor.

Meanwhile, France promised assistance to Qatar and Morocco to launch their own nuclear programmes, and Cairo signed last year with Moscow an agreement ensuring Russian enrolment in the setting up of nuclear plants in Egypt.

And Sudan decided to join the nuclear race by announcing on August 22 a plan to build its own reactor.

OBSTACLES PERSIST

The U.S. pressures to prevent the UN Atomic Energy Agency from demanding Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and consequently to declare the Middle East a nuclear free-zone, are anything but new.

In fact, during the NPT Review conference in New York May 3-28, Washington insisted on subjecting the Arab demand for a nuclear-free region to the pre-condition that Arab countries declare peace with Israel and recognise the state of Israel, while spelling out only ambiguous words about what would the Arabs would get in exchange.

On that occasion, the White House pressures prevented the adoption of the official draft that the Arab countries, led by Egypt, with strong support from Turkey and the non-aligned countries, submitted to the review conference.

According to this draft, which IDN accessed, the Arabs demanded the conference to reaffirm the relevance of the 1995 UN resolution in relation to the Middle East, which calls for declaring it a nuclear free-zone, and the need to fully implement it.

Paragraph 4 of the 1995 UN resolution calls on all Middle East countries, -- with no exception -- to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Arab draft also calls on all countries to put all their nuclear facilities under the comprehensive guarantees agreement of the International Atomic Energy Agency;

All Middle East countries, including Iran and with the exception of Israel, have joined the NPT.

The draft stressed over and again the need to call on Israel to immediately join the NPT as a State without nuclear weapons, and to consequently accept an internationally, legally binding commitment not to posses nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive warheads, as well as accept the comprehensive guarantees agreement and its application on all its nuclear facilities and activities.

THE EGYPTIAN PLAN

One week ahead of the review conference, an Egyptian Foreign Affairs ministry launched a call on "all States to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty".

The spokesperson said in a statement on April 26, 2010 that, through its participation in the Review conference, "Egypt wants to ensure the accession of all States to this NPT”.

Also on April 26, 2010 another Egyptian official source -- the Egypt State Information Service (SIS) -- disseminated an official document briefing on Cairo's position.

In its introduction, it says that the "Egyptian vision for achieving peace and stability in the (Middle East) region is based on fundaments and principles such as the fair, just solution of the Palestinian cause and the integral implementation of all resolutions based on international legitimacy".

It also stresses the principle of "respect of states' independence and sovereignty, including keeping the region far away from arms races, in particular those of mass destruction, and liberating the region from all kinds of them".

50 YEARS AGO

Cairo stance in the New York conference also stressed that, since 1961, all Egyptian governments have followed a "clear and totally transparent position" vis-à-vis nuclear weapons and in general all weapons of mass destruction (atomic, biological and chemicals).

It insisted as well on its plan "to free the Middle East of these weapons, starting with nuclear arms, and that all countries in the region join all international agreements that ban the possession, proliferation, production and use of these arms, as well as all related testing".

Egypt also demanded that all Middle East countries "be submitted to all international control and inspection systems, with no exception for any state or any weapon of mass destruction, under any circumstance".

FIVE KEY POINTS

In short, the Egyptian position is based on five key points. Firstly, that the possession of weapons of mass destruction does not guarantee security to any (Middle East) country; this will be ensured only through a just, comprehensive peace.

Secondly, that the lack of "any positive step" by Israel regarding the nuclear weapons issue and the Middle East liberation of arms of mass destruction, as well as its position based on the 'military superiority doctrine', will only contribute to deepening regional security imbalance;

Thirdly, that in its call for the total elimination of all kinds of weapons of mass destruction in the region, Egypt rejects any sort of discrimination or 'partialisation' that might be considered upon the will of any party in the Middle East;

Fourthly, Egypt rejects any possible 'selectiveness' of any weapon or any country, and rejects any concession of any special status to any country in the region;

And fifthly, that the process of disarming the Middle East of all kind of weapons of mass destruction must be carried out under international-comprehensive supervision, in particular by the United Nations and its agencies.

Last but not least, Egypt demands the implementation of the several UN resolutions calling for freeing the Middle East from nuclear weapons, in particular the UN Security Council resolution number 487 adopted in 1981.

NOTHING TO DO

Regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, the official spokesperson said, "The Egyptian stance is that the Iranian nuclear dossier needs to be dealt out politically, not through military actions."

"We reject the military option; we encourage Western countries concerned with this issue to act politically. We reject any military action because of the consequences it may bring to security and stability in the region."

The spokesperson also underscored that "certainly all states have the right to benefit from the advantages that the NPT offers regarding the peaceful use of nuclear power. But, at the same time, NPT member states must stick to the Treaty's provisions."

The May NPT review conference did not meet any of the above Arab and non-aligned countries' demands, backed by a number of European states, except allowing the IAEA to discuss the possibility to ask Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has failed. Israel continues to reject the international community demands. Nuclear talks with Iran are stalled. Arab countries rush rapidly into atomic. And the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are apparently leading nowhere. (IDN-InDepthNews/27.09.2010)

Copyright © 2010 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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