1. NAM Supports Iran’s Proposal to Ban Attacks on Nuclear Installations
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“The support of over 100 countries for Iran’s vital, comprehensive, and timely proposal shows that the country plays a significant role in all matters in the International Atomic Energy Agency,” and the Non-Aligned Movement unanimously supports principled stances, Iran’s envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, said on Monday.
The Iranian initiative seeks support for a generally worded document prohibiting all military attacks against nuclear installations anywhere when 150 countries convene for the general conference of the IAEA, which begins on September 4.
According to Soltanieh, the IAEA general conference already passed a resolution proposed by Iran entitled “Prohibition of All Armed Attacks against Nuclear Installations Devoted to Peaceful Purposes Whether Under Construction or in Operation” in September 1990, but a proposal for a new resolution has been made because more nuclear installations are being built all over the world and any sort of attack would have dire radiological consequences.
Soltanieh also stated that the envoy of Egypt, which currently holds the rotating presidency of NAM, formally announced NAM’s support for the proposal in a letter to IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday.
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is an international organization of states considering themselves not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. The movement is largely the brainchild of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, former president of Egypt Gamal Abdul Nasser, and former Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito.
It was founded in April 1955 and has 118 members. The purpose of the organization as stated in the Havana Declaration of 1979 is to ensure “the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries” in their “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.” They represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ members and comprise 55% of the world population, particularly countries considered to be developing or part of the Third World
Available at: http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=201744
Iran has not expanded the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at its Natanz nuclear site since the end of May after increasing capacity steadily over the previous three years, diplomats said.
The reason for the slowdown was unclear. The International Atomic Energy Agency is due to issue a report later this week that will influence big-power talks due to consider harsher sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear campaign.
Since May, Iran has been wracked by unrest over alleged election fraud that has split the conservative political establishment, a relative moderate has become head of its nuclear authority, and Western powers have said they will pursue harsh sanctions against Iran if it does not accept negotiations on its nuclear activity by the end of September.
"There has been no increase in the number of centrifuges enriching uranium since the end of May," a senior Vienna diplomat familiar with the issue said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities.
Some diplomats and analysts said the slowed enrichment growth was more likely a technical than political issue. They noted Iranian officials had renewed defiant refusals to curb the program despite the threat of harsher sanctions.
They also said Iran could swiftly resume expansion since, in addition to just under 5,000 centrifuges refining uranium as reported by U.N. inspectors on May 31, it had already installed many more in preparation for entering the production chain.
The senior diplomat said the number of Iranian centrifuges -- cylindrical machines that whirl at supersonic speed in linked networks -- now enriching uranium was slightly lower because some had been taken down for repair and maintenance.
But the number that have been installed, though not yet brought on stream, has risen from around 2,100 in May, diplomats said. These could be added to production lines within a few weeks, if desired, according to nuclear analysts.
"Once they're installed, it only takes a few weeks to test-run them under vacuum before they're ready to enrich," said David Albright, head of Washington's Institute for Science and International Security which tracks nuclear proliferation.
The Islamic Republic is at odds with major powers which suspect it is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
It denies this, saying it is refining uranium only for electricity so it can export more oil, though it has no nuclear power plants to use the low-enriched material it is stockpiling.
Some analysts say Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to convert into the high-enriched version (HEU) needed for a nuclear bomb if it wants. But there is disagreement over how soon Tehran could "weaponize" the enrichment process.
U.S. national intelligence chief Dennis Blair has said Iran is unlikely to be able to produce HEU before 2013, but Israel fears the timeline could prove shorter.
Iran may be slowing enrichment growth believing its uranium fuel stockpile is "perilously close to crossing an Israeli red line," said Mark Fitzpatrick, senior non-proliferation fellow at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Israel has hinted at the idea of military action to pre-empt a nuclear Iran.
"In the meantime," Fitzpatrick said, "what's most important for Iran is to increase the number of installed centrifuges, in case it ever enters negotiations that require a freeze on their number. Adding to the numbers now creates additional 'facts on the ground' that it will later argue can never be rolled back."
An IAEA spokesman declined to comment on Iran's centrifuge activity. There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials.
BIG POWER TALKS
The United States, Britain, France and Germany are expected to urge Russia and China in talks on September 2 to weigh a fourth round of U.N. sanctions possibly targeting Iran's lifeblood oil sector. The new IAEA report will underpin those discussions.
The report is also expected to elaborate on new Iranian cooperation with international demands for nuclear transparency.
But it was unclear whether these steps amounted to one-off gestures, designed to soften the IAEA report and the case for more painful sanctions, or a longer-term policy switch hinting at openness to a nuclear deal with big powers.
This month, Iran agreed to IAEA demands for upgraded monitoring at Natanz. It also restored access to a heavy water reactor under construction after blocking visits for a year.
There have been some mixed signals from Tehran since unrest broke out over alleged fraud in its June presidential election.
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's new atomic agency chief, said last month Tehran and the West should revive efforts to build mutual trust and end a six-year standoff. But he did not suggest Iran was ready to halt enrichment or freeze it at current levels.
Iran's IAEA ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was reported as saying on August 18 that Tehran was ready for talks with the West on its nuclear ambitions. He later denied the comments.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/russia/idUSTRE57O1DB20090825?sp=true
North Korea has invited the U.S. envoy overseeing ties with the prickly state to visit for nuclear talks next month, South Korean media said on Tuesday, as the United States pushes sanctions against Pyongyang.
Reclusive North Korea, which has made a series of rare conciliatory gestures this month, also agreed to hold talks with South Korea from Wednesday on resuming reunions of families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Pyongyang stopped the reunions almost two years ago in anger at the hard-line policies of the South's conservative government, which halted unconditional aid handouts and linked its largess to the North ending its nuclear arms ambitions.
Analysts say the North may be softening its tone with Washington and Seoul in an attempt to ease pressure on its coffers, depleted by U.N. sanctions for its nuclear test in May and facing the threat of a poor harvest.
U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth would lead a delegation first travelling to South Korea, China and Japan to discuss stalled six-way disarmament-for-aid talks with the North before heading to Pyongyang, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said, citing a senior diplomatic source in Washington.
It would mark the first official nuclear talks between North Korea and the Obama administration.
Bosworth is expected to visit Asia "in the not too distant future," said U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, but he said there were no plans now for him to visit Pyongyang. He declined to say whether the North had extended an invitation.
Kelly at one point said the United States would not hold talks with North Korea until Pyongyang agreed to resume six-party talks. He later said this was not a precondition.
U.S. LIKELY TO AGREE TO MEETING - ANALYSTS
Analysts said Washington had little choice but to send Bosworth to Pyongyang if only to test whether the North may be ready to resume talks on ending its nuclear programmes.
Jack Pritchard, a former U.S. negotiator with Pyongyang and now president of the Korea Economic Institute, said he did not believe the North was ready to resume denuclearisation talks, but he still expected Bosworth to travel to Pyongyang.
"I don't think that we can afford to say 'no' to the North Koreans when the demand is simply to allow Bosworth to go," he said.
Mitchell Reiss, a former U.S. official who has dealt with the North, said a visit might be necessary to win support from other nations for implementing tighter sanctions on the North.
Philip Goldberg, the U.S. coordinator for U.N. sanctions on North Korea, has been in Asia to seek support for measures aimed at stamping out the North's arms trade, which analysts say brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
"If the price of sanctions is a meeting, then by all means Ambassador Bosworth should go to Pyongyang," he said.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a diplomatic source in Washington as saying the North extended the invitation when former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang this month to win the release of two jailed U.S. journalists.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said they are willing to hold direct talks with North Korea but only as part of six-country disarmament negotiations involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Officials from the two biggest U.S. military allies in the region, Japan and South Korea, have said they would go along with direct U.S.-North Korean talks as long as Washington coordinates and consults with them.
The six-party talks, hosted by the North's biggest benefactor China, broke down at the end of last year with Pyongyang saying the format was dead.
REACHING OUT TO SEOUL
North Korea had all but severed ties with the South after President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008 and ended the steady flow of unconditional aid.
Lee had his first chance to directly tell North Korean officials of his policy on Sunday when he met a delegation that had flown to Seoul to mourn the death of former President Kim Dae-jung, who was buried the same day.
Under Lee's proposals, the South would pour investment into the North to rebuild its decayed infrastructure and lift the population out of abject poverty in return for Pyongyang giving up efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.
But few believe the North will give up dreams of having its own atomic weapons. Experts said Pyongyang's moves were a switch in tactics rather than a change of heart.
Available at: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SP441744.htm
A senior U.S. envoy says Washington is cooperating closely with South Korea to ensure United Nations sanctions against North Korea are carried out. However, Washington is leaving room for the South to revive its economic cooperation with Pyongyang.
U.S. envoy Philip Goldberg said Monday the resumption of a South Korean tourism venture in North Korea and the expansion of a jointly run industrial zone probably would not interfere with enforcement of United Nations sanctions against the North.
"My assessment is that at the moment these are issues outside of that resolution," Goldberg said. "And there are economic and humanitarian developments that are taken into account in the resolution as well."
The Obama administration has tasked Goldberg with coordinating implementation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1874, which punishes Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons test in May. The measure imposes strict embargoes on North Korea, and allows for the blacklisting of companies believed to be connected to the North's weapons programs.
A series of recent overtures from the North has stoked expectations of resumed momentum in North-South economic projects. That culminated over the past few days with a meeting between senior North Korean envoys and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
It was the first high-level meeting between the two governments since Mr. Lee took office last year and began to push Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
Still, after meetings with South Korean officials Monday in Seoul, Goldberg says the United States will keep pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapons programs.
"Right now we're concentrating on implementation--and full implementation - of the resolutions - so you can expect that we will continue with those efforts, yes," Goldberg said. "Because the goal is denuclearization, and a return to the process that was underway."
In April, North Korea abandoned nuclear talks involving South Korea, the United States, China, Russia, and Japan. Goldberg says one-on-one meetings between the U.S. and North Korea are possible, but only inside the framework of the six-nation talks.
Separately, South Korea dismissed media speculation that Sunday's meeting between North Korean envoys and President Lee included talk of a North-South summit. A spokesman for President Lee says he reminded the envoys of his "consistent" policy that the South will only help the North if it gives up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Available at: http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-08-24-voa13.cfm
As the Obama administration contemplates major reductions to its nuclear arsenal, Japan's commitment to nuclear disarmament is being tested as never before.
In his Prague speech on April 5, President Barack Obama said, "We will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same." He went on to say, "we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal."
But in between these two landmark pledges he said, "as long as these weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies."
The goal that Obama articulated of "a world without nuclear weapons" was overwhelmingly supported by the Japanese public. Yet, the way the Japanese government views U.S. extended nuclear deterrence, otherwise referred to as the "nuclear umbrella," is turning out to be a key sticking point, which may end up blocking progress on nuclear disarmament.
Reportedly, the specific reduction in the role of nuclear weapons that is being contemplated is that they would be retained for only one purpose. Their sole purpose would be to deter the use of other people's nuclear weapons. This is sometimes referred to as a policy of "No First Use" (NFU).
The Japanese government has long taken a different undeclared view that the U.S. nuclear umbrella should also cover potential threats from biological weapons, chemical weapons and even conventional weapons.
At a press conference Aug. 9, on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Prime Minister Taro Aso criticized demands for nuclear powers, including the United States, to pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. He said, "I wonder if that's a realistic way to ensure Japan's safety." Likewise, Foreign Ministry officials have repeatedly made unofficial comments opposing NFU.
The key test for the vision spelled out by Obama in Prague is the Nuclear Posture Review, now being prepared. We understand that a substantial reduction in the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy is being considered.
It is distressing to note that Japan is being used as an excuse to prevent Washington from making an important policy change that would be a step forward toward a world without nuclear weapons. Some argue that a reduction in the role of nuclear weapons would weaken the U.S.-Japan security relationship.
Others, for example former U.S. Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, even suggest that Japan might choose to acquire its own nuclear weapons.
In fact, there are signs of greater flexibility than these people acknowledge. It is widely predicted that there will be a change of government after the Aug. 30 elections and that the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), currently the largest opposition party, will win. The attitude to NFU by the DPJ and its potential coalition partners is likely to be quite different from the LDP.
DPJ secretary general Katsuya Okada has suggested that Japan work with Washington to achieve a NFU policy. In response to a questionnaire sent recently to Japanese political parties by disarmament nongovernment organizations, the DPJ said that NFU was an issue that should be discussed with the U.S. government.
The Social Democratic Party, a potential coalition party in a new government, and the Japanese Communist Party also supported an NFU policy. Even New Komeito, which is a member of the current government, supported an NFU policy if there is an international consensus.
Opposition to NFU within the LDP is by no means universal. So the picture of monolithic Japanese opposition to NFU, presented by some U.S. commentators, is really quite misleading.
As for the argument that Japan will go nuclear if Washington reduces the number and missions of U.S. nuclear forces, this is nonsense. Japanese political leaders are intelligent enough to know that going nuclear would have huge ramifications that would not be in Japan's national interest. No political party in Japan supports acquiring nuclear weapons.
Sixty-four years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the anti- nuclear sentiment in Japan remains strong. Over 1,400 local authorities (about 80 percent) have made nuclear-free pledges. These local authorities represent the spirit of nuclear abolition in Japanese society far better than the LDP-led central government.
If the Obama administration moves decisively to get rid of "the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War." the joy of the vast majority of the Japanese people will overwhelm the reservations of an unrepresentative clique in the Japanese bureaucratic system. So, Mr. Obama, act boldly. Grasp the opportunity that is before you. Japan is ready.
Available at: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20090825a1.html
Information leaking out of Burma raises suspicions of a clandestine nuclear program in cahoots with North Korea but there's no solid evidence, a new study says.
The paper, released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) says any suggestion of a secret weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program conducted by a rogue state like Burma must be cause for serious concern.
The author, Griffith University research fellow Andrew Selth, said no one could underestimate the lengths to which Burma's military leaders would go to stay in power and to protect the country from perceived external threats.
"Some of the information that has leaked out of Burma appears credible, and in recent years other snippets of information have emerged which, taken together, must raise suspicions," he said.
Relations between Burma and North Korea, which both achieved independence in 1948, have been traditionally patchy but warmed in 1988 when Burma was ostracised by the west after the abortive 1988 pro-democracy uprising.
Mr Selth said reliable information was scarce but it seemed that Burma had purchased weapons and munitions from North Korea. Periodic visits of North Korean freighters to Rangoon have prompted speculation that Burma has acquired more advanced weaponry, such as SCUD-type missiles.
Media reports last month claimed Burma had embarked on a secret nuclear weapons program, aided by North Korea which has long conducted a clandestine nuclear weapons program, testing devices in 2006 and 2009.
Mr Selth said the US had steadfastly refused to accuse Burma of a secret WMD program, probably because it did not feel there was sufficient reliable evidence to mount a public case.
"Understandably, foreign officials looking at this issue are being very cautious. No one wants a repetition of the mistakes which preceded the 2003 Iraq War, either in underestimating a country's capabilities, or by giving too much credibility to a few untested intelligence sources," he said.
Mr Selth said the challenge was to determine if Burma had such a program and if so, to do something about it.
He said Burma's regime did not seem to fear international criticism or the threat of increased sanctions.
"The exposure of a WMD program would probably see Burma expelled from ASEAN," he said.
"Even if that were to occur, however, the generals seem prepared to see Burma return to its pre-1988 isolation and poverty, if that was the price they had to pay to remain masters of the country's and their own destiny."
Available at: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/853731/evidence-lacking-of-burmas-nuke-plans
3. World Conference Calls for Abolishing Nuclear Weapons
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About 7,800 people taking part in the 2009 World Conference against A & H Bombs-Nagasaki pledged to increase grassroots efforts to pave the way for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
The main and concluding part of this year’s World Conference took place in Nagasaki from August 7-9.
Young participants from abroad as well as from all over Japan attentively listened to A-bomb survivors (Hibakusha) speaking about their experience of the atomic bombing and 64 years of their suffering from various diseases caused by exposure to atomic bomb radiation.
A 23-year-old medical social worker from Fukushima, who attended the meeting with Hibakusha, said, “I am struck by the fact that the atomic bombings not only took the lives of so many people but also continue to torment Hibakusha even after more than 60 years because of after-effects. We must not be deceived by arguments to justify nuclear weapons as something necessary for peace.”
Taniguchi Sumiteru, a Hibakusha of Nagasaki, at a young people’s meeting spoke about his bitter experience to 1,600 participants and called on them to “join hands with Hibakusha in the movement to totally eliminate nuclear weapons as swiftly as possible.”
The closing plenary of the World Conference adopted a letter to the world’s governments calling on them to act to start international negotiations for a total ban on nuclear weapons and their elimination.
In concluding all the programs of the 2009 World Conference against A & H Bombs, Taka Hiroshi, Japan Council against A & H Bombs secretary general, called on participants to achieve the goal of collecting 12 million signatures in support of a world free of nuclear weapons toward the next NPT Review Conference next May.
Taka also called for immediate action to replace the present government in the upcoming election over Japan’s future and action to get Japan to strictly observe the war renouncing Article 9 and the Three Non-Nuclear Principles (not to possess, manufacture or allow the entry of nuclear weapons).
Nagasaki mayor pledges to continue to call for nuclear weapons to be eradicated so that everyone can live with dignity
On August 9, bells resounded over the City of Nagasaki at 11:02 AM, the time when a U.S. atomic bomb detonated 64 years ago.
At the memorial ceremony held by the city, Mayor Taue Tomihisa in the Nagasaki Peace Declaration referred to U.S. President Barack Obama’s Prague speech in April and said that a superpower possessing nuclear weapons “finally took a step towards the elimination of nuclear armaments.”
He also said, “The government must globally disseminate the ideals of peace and renunciation of war prescribed in the Japanese Constitution. The government must also embark on measures to establish a firm position on the Three Non-Nuclear Principles by enacting them into law.”
Miguel D’Escoto, U.N. General Assembly president, attended the ceremony and spoke.
Prime Minister Aso Taro in his speech, who had emphasized that Japan needs to be protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella in his Hiroshima speech, never touched on the Obama speech that called for a world without nuclear weapons.
Available at: http://www.politicalaffairs.net/article/articleview/8932/
1. Cairo Receives 6 Bids for Nuclear Energy Project
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The Egyptian Minister of Electricity and Energy said that the government is reviewing bids form six international companies, to provide service-related and technical consultancy for the nuclear safety department in the Egyptian nuclear program, Kuna reported.
He pointed out that the companies originate from France, Britain, Germany, Canada, USA and South Korea, and were chosen out of a total 17 bids presented last April.
Duties of the chosen consultancy firm will include improving employer efficiency through practical and academic training and training on the use of nuclear safety codes used in assignment and monitoring, as well as the ability to carry out quality control programs.
Egypt has ended preparations for a law that organizes nuclear and radioactive practices aimed at legislative framework that insures the safety of people and property, as well as the secure disposal of nuclear waste.
Available at: http://www.menafn.com/qn_news_story_s.asp?StoryId=1093267460
2. Russia, Mongolia Form Dornod Uranium Joint Venture
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Russian and Mongolian state-owned firms have formed a joint venture to exploit the Dornod uranium deposit, in a setback for a Canadian mining firm licensed to develop the area.
The move comes after Mongolia's legislature in July passed a Nuclear Energy law that gave the state greater ownership over uranium deposits, especially those deemed strategic.
Mongolia's AtomMon and Russian state firm AtomRedMetGold will establish the joint venture Dornod Uranium, Mongolia Today, a Russian language newspaper in Mongolia, reported on Tuesday.
"Under this agreement both sides will put into circulation in Dornod region a deposit of 27.73 tonnes of uranium and will export the raw material for nuclear fuel," the paper said, without citing anyone.
Khan Resources (KRI.TO), a Canadian mining firm, held exploration and mining licenses in the Dornod area in northeastern Mongolia, the site of a former Russian open pit mine. It said in July that it was seeking clarification on the impact of the Mongolian law.
Speculation in Mongolia that Russian interests would regain a greater influence over Mongolia's uranium wealth grew after the Mongolian Prime Minister, of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, crossed the border for a quick visit in January.
Mongolia opened its uranium deposits to international prospectors after the collapse of the Soviet Union ended six decades as a satellite state, and forced Russia to abandon its uranium mining interests.
However, in the past three years the country has become increasingly concerned about re-exerting control over its own resources.
Executives from Khan Resources had also travelled to Mongolia, the paper said on Tuesday. They could not be immediately reached for comment.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/rbssIndustryMaterialsUtilitiesNews/idUSPEK4421720090825?rpc=401&
3. Vietnam to Have First Nuclear Power Plant by 2020: Official
Thanh Nien News
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Vietnam’s first nuclear power plant is expected to launch by 2020 with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts, Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission Vice Chairman Le Van Hong said in a recent interview with Thanh Nien.
“According to the plan, the government will submit the investment report [on the plant] to the National Assembly in October,” Hong said, adding that construction will start once the report is approved. In addition to guaranteeing the plant will be safe with all necessary equipment and safety measures, Hong said one of the greatest challenges will be addressing a lack of human resources in terms of quality and quantity.
Since the project was put forward under an agreement with Japan signed in May last year, local experts have been concerned about the country’s inadequate personnel in the field.
Leading physicist Professor Cao Chi of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission even doubted whether Vietnam could launch its first nuclear power plant by 2020 as planned with the dearth of human resources.
However, Hong said that for now, while the country is sending its staff to receive training abroad, the plant will be mainly built and operated by foreign experts.
“The Ministry of Education and Training has completed the draft of the nuclear power human resources training project to submit to the government by the end of this year,” he added.
The training plan is estimated to cost VND2 trillion (US$112.45 million), according to the education ministry.
Vietnam's sole nuclear reactor, located in the central highland resort town of Da Lat, is used for training and research and managed by the Nuclear Study Institute.
It was built in 1984 and will need to be replaced in 2015.
Available at: http://www.thanhniennews.com/education/?catid=4&newsid=52046
The spectre of a U.S. nuclear umbrella for the Middle East haunted the U.S.- Egyptian summit this week. In the 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.
A 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 Aug. 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 Aug. 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, 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."
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 on alleged U.S. nuclear plans in the Middle East now, Awad said: "It is absolutely rejectable both in form and content. 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."
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 revitalised 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 Jul. 5: "It is a must to free the Middle East of nuclear weapons."
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.
Iran 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 other 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), Yukiya Amano of Japan. He told reporters Jul. 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 Iran 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 Jul. 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.
"There is only one nuclear state (in the Middle East) that has nuclear weapons, and it is Israel," the Arab League's chief stressed.
Although it started developing nuclear weapons in the mid-sixties, Israel's successive governments have systematically refused to deny or confirm the possession of a nuclear arsenal.
Nevertheless, the Stockholm International Peace Institute (SIPRI) ranks Israel as the sixth world nuclear power on the basis of the number of deployed nuclear warheads in January 2009.
According to SIPRI figures, Israel is second only 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 the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
However Israel is one of eight states which, as of January this year, possessed between them 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 Anwar Sadat, says that Israel has 200 nuclear warheads.
The U.S. based Arms Control Association (ACA), which was founded in 1971 as a non-partisan organisation 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.
Israel has never denied any of these reports and figures.
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. "lacks any legitimacy to demand Iran, which has not developed any nuclear weapon, halt its nuclear programme, while treating the only proved nuclear power in the region with silky hands."
The source said "this argument was put on the table" by Mubarak during his meeting with Obama. "Egypt has always stated that had the U.S. pressed 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 others to have nuclear programmes."
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."
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. Obama promised in Prague last April to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.
On Jul. 6, the U.S. President signed an understanding with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow aimed at reducing a part of their stockpiles of nuclear weapons within seven years.
The Moscow understanding, which includes intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles 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.
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 for nuclear weapons reductions towards nuclear abolition, called Global Zero, was launched in Paris in December last year 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 will convene a Global Zero World Summit bringing together hundreds of leaders in early 2010, for abolition of what Global Zero campaigner Queen Nour of Jordan calls "the nuclear folly".
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