--United States Offers to Help Israel Produce Atomic Energy
U.S. President Barack Obama warned on Tuesday that attempts to threaten Israel on its nuclear program, could be an impediment to organizing an international conference on a Middle East free of nuclear weapons by 2012, reported Beirut daily AN NAHAR Thursday. In a statement following his talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Tuesday, Obama said in a statement that "the President was keen to point out that the conference can only take place if all countries feel confident that they can attend." He added, "Any attempt to target Israel would make the prospects for holding such a conference unlikely.
The U.S. President also agreed to work with Israel to prevent its targeting at the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting scheduled for September. After decades of deadlock, 189 states signed a new iteration of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May that takes new steps to reduce nuclear armament and eventually to create "a Middle East free of nuclear weapons." In a 28-page document released following the conference, diplomats agreed on their intention to hold a Middle East conference on nuclear weapons in 2012, to be attended by all countries of the region. The conference also singled out Israel and called on Tel Aviv to accede to the NPT treaty. Israel refuses to confirm or deny the existence of its nuclear program, though it is widely known to exist.
Dan Meridor, Netanyahu's deputy prime minister in charge of nuclear affairs, said Obama's endorsement was not new but that its public expression--two months after Washington supported Egypt's proposal at a review conference of the NPT--was significant. In their first meeting last year, Netanyahu and Obama reaffirmed a 40-year-old American "don't ask, don't tell" approach to Israel's nuclear capacities. "Why repeat this publicly? Because between then and now there was the NPT conference that may have created the impression that there is a change in the American view," Meridor told Reuters in an interview.
Israel neither confirms nor denies having nuclear weapons under an "ambiguity" strategy billed as warding off foes while avoiding public provocations that can spark regional arms races. The official reticence, and its toleration in Washington, has long aggrieved many Arabs and Iranians--especially given U.S.-led pressure on Tehran to rein in its nuclear program.
In a separate development on Wednesday, Israel's Army Radio said the United States had offered to help Israel produce atomic energy despite Israel's refusal to sign the NPT, which is designed to stop countries using civilian programs as cover for building nuclear bombs. Army Radio's diplomatic correspondent said the reported offer could put Israel on a par with India, another NPT holdout which is openly nuclear-armed but in 2008 secured a U.S.-led deal granting it civilian nuclear imports.
By staying outside the NPT, Israel has avoided forswearing nuclear arms or admitting nuclear inspectors. But it has also lost out on assistance available to treaty signatories for producing civilian atomic energy. Meridor declined to comment on the report, as did the U.S. embassy. "There are all kinds of discussions, which are by their nature very sensitive," Meridor said.