Nuke-Free Middle East Needed to Resolve Iran Dispute, Egypt Asserts

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty member nations must declare the Middle East to be a nuclear weapon-free zone if they hope to move toward resolving a long-running dispute over Iran's nuclear program, Egypt's ambassador to the United Nations said yesterday (see GSN, April 20).

Egypt plans to advance a proposal at next month's NPT review conference that would commit treaty members to holding talks before 2012 on a pact that would establish a nuclear weapon-free zone in the region (see related GSN story, today).

The plan asks treaty signatories to "renew their resolve to undertake, individually and collectively, all necessary measures aimed at the prompt implementation" of a 1995 resolution calling for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East, "including the accession by Israel to the treaty as soon as possible as a non-nuclear weapon state." The proposal also calls for Israel, which does not publicly acknowledge its widely presumed nuclear arsenal, to open its atomic sites to international scrutiny.

"Success in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone" in the Middle East, Egyptian Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said (see related GSN story, today). "We refuse the existence of any nuclear weapons in (the Middle East) whether it is in Iran or whether it is in Israel," he said.

Disputes over nuclear activities in Iran and Israel should be handled in tandem, even though the issues have no direct connection, Abdelaziz said. The ambassador encouraged Jerusalem to participate in the monthlong NPT review meeting, which is scheduled to begin Monday (Agence France-Presse/Google News, April 27).

Washington and some governments in Europe have grown more supportive of establishing a nuclear weapon-free zone in the region, Gamal Abdel-Gawad, a political expert in Cairo, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

"There are several indicators that the position of the United States and some European countries toward this issue is changing," he said. A change in U.S. and European positions on the issue would "set a precedent," but "it does not mean change will happen one month later," the analyst said, adding that international consensus on creating such a territory would pressure Jerusalem to pursue a "different nuclear strategy."

Greater nuclear transparency would not necessarily force Jerusalem to surrender it nuclear weapons, said Uzi Even, a chemistry professor at Tel Aviv University.

"The fear of exposure stems from the fact that many in Israel think removing the ambiguity means disarming from what we allegedly have acquired, but that is not true," Ynetnews quoted Even as saying. "India and Pakistan, for example, started out with ambiguity like us, and they very quickly became recognized, and this did not stop them from continuing to develop."

"We must consider lifting the ambiguity ... thus creating a clear balance of terror," added Eyal Zisser, who heads Tel Aviv University's Middle East Studies Department.

Efriam Escolai, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, expressed a different view.

"Why change a policy that served us well throughout the years?" Escolai asked (el-Sherif/Abramowitz, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Monsters and Critics, April 28).

April 28, 2010
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Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty member nations must declare the Middle East to be a nuclear weapon-free zone if they hope to move toward resolving a long-running dispute over Iran's nuclear program, Egypt's ambassador to the United Nations said yesterday (see GSN, April 20).

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