Abul Gheit responds to Iranian statements but also criticizes Western nations over Israel s nuke program
CAIRO: With Iran looking to develop nuclear technology, Israel almost admitting it possesses nuclear weapons, and the Gulf nations look to develop a nuclear program, albeit a peaceful one, there are concerns that the Middle East is at the onset of an arms race between regional powers.
“What happens after Iran develops its nuclear power? What will the region be like with a nuclear country? Add [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert’s recent comments that Israel a nuclear country, and you have a nuclear arms race in the region. With the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) intent to start a nuclear program, then we have a nuclear region. And this is a very sensitive region, Ashraf Keshk, an expert on Gulf affairs told The Daily Star Egypt.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said: “The possession by some countries of peaceful nuclear technology, or some of stages of the nuclear cycle, or carrying out some peaceful nuclear activities, does not mean by any means that it can call itself a nuclear state. Nuclear states are only those that have military nuclear capabilities.
His comment was a response to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent statements – following the United Nations decision to impose nuclear sanctions on Iran – that Iran was a “nuclear country , whether the world liked it or not.
However Abul Gheit also called for an end to what he termed nuclear double standards, saying “The negligence of certain Western countries over questions of non-proliferation, and the fact that they permit some states to acquire a nuclear capacity while preventing others from doing so, is nothing but double standards. That must stop. It is known that Israel has a nuclear capability that is not subject to any control by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Egypt does not oppose the peaceful use of nuclear power, and has recently restarted a nuclear program that had been shelved for two decades.
An Egyptian diplomatic source had previously told The Daily Star Egypt “Egypt supports any peaceful nuclear program as long as it adheres to the international standards defined by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and does not seek military nuclear power.
Keshk believes that there are many reasons behind the foreign minister’s response, chief among them is Egypt’s desire to rid the region of nuclear weapons. In addition, he said “The statements are related to Egyptian discussions with the Gulf states. Gulf security is very important to Egypt, especially with economic projects under discussion, as shown by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif’s recent visit to the area. And the Gulf States are concerned about Iran.
Members of the GCC – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Bahrain – had announced at the closing of their annual summit that they would consider a shared nuclear program for peaceful purposes.
Keshk stressed that Egypt wanted to comment on the Iranian statements before any other country from outside the Middle East in order to show that countries from within the region were taking the initiative. He also said that despite the tension in Egyptian-Iranian relations, there are some channels of communication open between the two states.
Iran, says Keshk, feels threatened by the presence of US troops in the Middle East and so it wants reassurance and a comprehensive settlement from the US that will guarantee its security and the continuation of its role in the region.
He continued: “The Iranians are inextricably involved in the region and the US cannot end that with a strike or sanctions.
The solution, Keshk believes, lies only in “negotiations and they will take years, not a month or two. American-Iranian relations are complicated, not only on the nuclear front. There are other issues, so if a comprehensive deal is reached, maybe things will improve for the region.
As for Egyptian-Iranian relations, Emad Gad, an expert on international relations at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, previously told The Daily Star Egypt that progress between Egypt and Iran cannot be predicted with certainty because Iranian President Ahmadinejad is the kind of person to make one statement today and a contradictory one the next.
“I’m pessimistic that relations will be strengthened, Gad told The Daily Star Egypt, “because of Ahmadinejad. He’s conservative, dogmatic and narrow-minded. He can reverse things with a statement. He might revert on anything that happens.
Ties between Egypt and Iran have been strained since the Islamic revolution of 1979 when late President Anwar Al-Sadat allowed the overthrown Shah of Iran to seek refuge in Egypt. Diplomatic ties between the two countries officially broke off in 1980 to protest the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel.