NYT: Mideast nuclear arms race seen

Now that Iran has a nuclear program, other Middle East countries want nuclear power—potentially resulting in a nuclear arms race in the region, the New York Times reported April 15. “Two years ago, the leaders of Saudi Arabia told international atomic regulators that they could foresee no need for the kingdom to develop nuclear power. Today, they are scrambling to hire atomic contractors, buy nuclear hardware and build support for a regional system of reactors,” the newspaper said. “Turkey is preparing for its first atomic plant and Egypt has announced plans to build one on its Mediterranean coast. In all, roughly a dozen states in the region have recently turned to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for help in starting their own nuclear program.”

“The rules have changed. Everybody’s going for nuclear programs,” King Abdullah II of Jordan was quoted as saying recently to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. While all the governments say they want nuclear power for peaceful purposes, they also allude to other reasons. At a meeting of Arab leaders in March, officials from 21 governments in and around the Middle East warned that Iran’s drive for atomic technology could result in the beginning of “a grave and destructive nuclear arms race in the region.” (Xinhua, April 15)

See our last posts on nuclear proliferation, Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

  1. Nuclear scandal in Egypt
    From the NYT, April 18:

    An Egyptian nuclear engineer who worked for the country’s Atomic Energy Agency has been arrested and charged with spying for Israel, the government authorities said Tuesday.

    A government statement said the engineer, Muhammad Sayyid Saber Ali, had delivered “important and secret information” about the agency and about one of two nuclear reactors in Egypt to “Israeli intelligence elements” in exchange for about $20,000 transferred to a bank account…

    In Egypt, Gamal Mubarak, son of President Hosni Mubarak and assistant secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party, announced last September the country’s intention to resume its nuclear energy program, which was frozen after the Chernobyl explosion and fire in 1986. President Mubarak and several Egyptian officials have reiterated that intention, emphasizing its “peaceful purposes.”

  2. Nuclear-free Middle East
    From Toward Freedom, April 19:

    Mohamed ElBaradei, Director of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) called on Iran and Israel to enter into serious negotiations to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East — a zone in which both Israel and Iran would be members. He was speaking on April 15, 2007 following talks in Jordan with King Abdullah II. Jordan, caught between Iraq and growing tensions between Israel and Palestine, has been trying to play a more active role of regional peacemaker.

    ElBaradei said “This is the last chance to build security in the Middle East based on trust and cooperation and not the possession of nuclear weapons.” He stressed that a peace agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors “must be reached in parallel with a security agreement in the region based on ridding the area of all weapons of mass destruction.”