Egypt Rejects U.S. Nuclear Umbrella

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Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Fareed Mahdy

IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

(IDN Middle East Special Correspondent) - A spectre haunted the U.S.-Egyptian summit -- the spectre of a U.S. nuclear umbrella for the Middle East. In run-up to President Hosni Mubarak's first Washington visit in five years, both the Egyptian leader and his senior aides categorically rejected an undeclared U.S. offer to guarantee defence of the region against atomic weapons as part of a comprehensive Middle East peace plan.  | ARABIC | GERMAN | JAPANESE

Nuclear umbrella is usually used for the security alliances of the United States with non-nuclear states such as Japan, South Korea, much of Europe, Turkey, Canada, and Australia, originating with the Cold War with the then Soviet Union. For some countries it was an alternative to acquiring nuclear weapons themselves.

According to knowledgeable sources, the Egyptian President insisted with President Barack Obama on August 18 that "what the Middle East needs is peace, security, stability and development", not nuclear weapons.

In doing so, Mubarak reaffirmed Egypt's pledge underlying the country's commitment since 1974 for the establishment of a "nuclear free Middle East".

Pre-empting discussion on the issue, Mubarak said in an exclusive interview with the leading Egyptian daily Al Ahram on August 17 that "Egypt will not be part of any American nuclear umbrella intended to protect the Gulf countries".

Such an umbrella, he said, "would imply accepting foreign troops and experts on our land -- and we do not accept that". Mubarak also emphasised that a U.S. nuclear umbrella “would imply an implicit acceptance that there is a regional nuclear power --we do not accept that either.”

The Egyptian president asserted that “the Middle East does not need any nuclear powers, be they Iran or Israel -- what we need is peace, security, stability and development". In any case, "we have not received any official communication regarding such a proposal", he added.

On the same day, Ambassador Suleiman Awad, spokesperson of the Egyptian Presidency, also commented on a U.S. nuclear umbrella in the region. "This is not the first time the issue is raised; it is part of the U.S. defence policy," the presidential spokesperson said. “What is new is that it is raised now for the Middle East.”

In fact, at the height of the Sino-Indian war that coincided closely with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, the U.S. Administration under President John F. Kennedy made an informal offer of a nuclear umbrella to India at a time when the country felt constrained to seek U.S. military support to defend itself against China.

Commenting alleged U.S. nuclear plans in the Middle East, Ambassador Awad said: "It is absolutely rejectable both in form and contents. Instead of talking about a nuclear umbrella, the Iranian nuclear file should be dealt with (in a spirit of) dialogue and flexibility from both sides, the West and Iran."

He added: "Iran has the right to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, like any other country signatory of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), provided that it proves that its programme is for peaceful uses."

Mubarak's spokesperson then underlined: “At the same time, this must be accompanied, simultaneously, by a serious move vis-à-vis Israel's nuclear capacity, in order to avoid accusations of double standards."

THE EGYPTIAN ‘NUCLEAR FREE’ INITIATIVE

These remarks are in continuity with Egypt's 35-year long campaign aiming at the establishment of a "nuclear free Middle East". In 1990, Mubarak revitalized the Egyptian initiative through a new, larger plan to declare the Middle East a "weapons of mass destruction free region", including nuclear weapons.

The Egyptian initiative has drawn support from most Arab countries and has been recently reaffirmed by Amre Musa, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, representing all the 22 Arab countries.

Musa declared on July 5: "It is a must to free the Middle East of nuclear weapons."

The Arab support for the "nuclear free Middle East" initiative has gathered added strength particularly in the Gulf Arab countries in the wake of the U.S., Israel, and Europe alleging that Iran intends to build nuclear weapons.

Though Teheran has systematically refuted these allegations, assuring that its nuclear programme is meant for peaceful use and nuclear power generation, the U.S., Israel and Europe are adamant that they will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This avowal contrasts with the positions of Russia and China, who do not want a nuclear armed Iran but opt for ways to prevent this from happening. The Arabs also have more doubts than certainty about Iran's alleged intentions to development nuclear weapons.

The Western view has been implicitly challenged by the new Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ambassdor Yukiya Amano of Japan. He told reporters July 3 after his appointment that he "did not see any hard evidence of Iran trying to gain the capability to develop nuclear arms".

Asked by Reuters' Sylvia Westall whether he believed Tehran was seeking nuclear weapons capability, Amano, veteran diplomat and senior non-proliferation expert, said: "I don't see any evidence in IAEA official documents about this."

Two days later, in an exclusive interview with Kuwait daily Al-Anba' on July 5, the secretary general of the League of Arab States was asked whether Iran represented a "real threat" to the region. "There is no documented evidence (that proves) the existence of an Iranian military nuclear programme," Musa replied.

ISRAEL, THE SOLE MIDDLE EAST NUCLEAR POWER

"There is only one nuclear state (in the Middle East) that has nuclear weapons, and it is Israel," the Arab League’s chief stressed. So far, Israel is indeed the only Middle East nuclear power.

Although it started developing nuclear weapons in the mid-sixties, Israel’s successive governments have systematically refused to deny or confirm the possession of nuclear arsenal.

Nevertheless, the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI) estimates lead to ranking Israel as the sixth world nuclear power on the basis of the number of deployed nuclear warheads in January 2009.

According to SIPRI’s figures, Israel comes only second to the bloc of the five UN Security Council permanent members (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China), with more deployed warheads (80) than India (60-70) and Pakistan (60).

North Korea is believed to have produced enough plutonium to build a small number of nuclear warheads, although it is unclear whether it has manufactured an operational weapon, says SIPRI.

Unlike the U.S., Russia, UK, France and China, Israel is not a signatory to the1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

However Israel is one of eight states which, as per January this year, possessed a total of more than 23,300 nuclear weapons, including operational warheads, spares, those in both active and inactive storage, and intact warheads scheduled for dismantlement, according to SIPRI.

"India and Pakistan, which along with Israel are de facto nuclear weapon states outside the NPT, continue to develop new missile systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons and are also expanding their capacities to produce fissile material," SIPRI reports.

The SIPRI numbers have been questioned, however. For example, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently declared: "Israel has 150 nuclear warheads, or more."

Prestigious Egyptian journalist, writer and political analyst Mohamed Hassanein Heykal, who served as a close advisor to late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anuar El Sadat, says that Israel has 200 nuclear warheads.

Also the U.S. based Arms Control Association (ACA), which was founded in 1971 as a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies, estimates that Israel posses between 75 to 200 nuclear warheads.

Egyptian army intelligence sources estimate the number of Israeli nuclear warheads as ranging between 230 and 250.

Significantly, Israel has never denied any of these reports and figures.

THE ONLY NUCLEAR THREAT

The Arab-backed Egyptian initiative is based on the fact that the sole nuclear threat in the Middle East is Israel.

A top Egyptian diplomatic source, who asked not to be named, told this reporter that Egyptian officials have always argued that the U.S. "lack any legitimacy to demand Iran, which has not developed any nuclear weapon, to halt its nuclear programme, while treating the only proved nuclear power in the region with silky hands".

"This argument has been put on the table" by Mubarak during his summit with Obama, the source said. "Egypt has always stated that had the U.S. pressed on Israel to dismantle its nuclear weapons, it would have been now in a strong and legitimate position to stop any potential Iranian nuclear aspirations," the source said.

The source recalled Arab League secretary general Musa's recent statement that "it is a must to free the Middle East of nuclear weapons -- the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons violates the non-proliferation principle and encourages the others to have nuclear programmes".

Also Ambassor Hessam Zaki, spokesperson of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier this month, in a public statement that "Egypt has seized every possible opportunity to discuss, at all levels and in all meetings, that the Middle East should be declared a nuclear free region".

THE RIGHT TIMING?

Egyptian officials point out that the U.S.-Egyptian summit has taken place at a point in time that seems appropriate to discuss nuclear disarmament. In fact, President Obama promised in Prague last April to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.

On July 6, the U.S. president signed in Moscow with his Russian colleague Dmitry Medvedev an understanding aimed to reduce part of their stockpiles of nuclear weapons within seven years.

The Moscow understanding, which includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and bombers, is supposed to replace the 1991 Start I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty I), which expires in December this year.

The White House meeting came also in the middle of a worldwide campaign to reduce nuclear arms as a critical step towards their total abolition, which Japan, the sole country that suffered the consequences of U.S. nuclear bombs in World War II, has been actively promoting.

In fact, the appointment of an anti-nuclear Japanese to lead the IAEA is expected to add to Japanese civil society efforts for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The 12 million members of non-governmental organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI) in 192 countries have embarked on a broad based campaign for nuclear abolition. 'The People's Decade for Nuclear Abolition' initiative created by SGI aims to rouse public opinion and help create a global grassroots network of people dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons.

According to SGI president Daisaku Ikeda, "nuclear weapons embody an absolute evil that threatens humankind's right to live.”

Another major world campaign in favour of nuclear weapons reductions toward nuclear abolition, called Global Zero, was launched in Paris last by 100 political, military, business, faith and civic leaders cutting across political lines.

Their purpose is to shore up the two major nuclear powers in their declared intention to achieve a comprehensive agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide through phased and verified reductions.

Global Zero is developing a step-by-step policy plan for the phased elimination of nuclear weapons, and is committed to building broad-based public support through worldwide media and online communications and civil society organisations.

The initiative’s signatories have announced that they would convene a Global Zero World Summit bringing together hundreds of leaders in early 2010 -- to abolish what Global Zero active campaigner, Queen Nour of Jordan, calls "the nuclear folly". (IDN-InDepthNews/18.08.09)

2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service

Note: This article is part of a media project initiated by the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist association, and the Inter Press Service global news agency to strengthen public awareness of the urgent need for nuclear abolition. The global coordination of the project is being done by InterPress Service Europa (IPSEuropa|IPSEurope) whose external partner, among others for this project, is IDN-InDepthNews Service.
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