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U.S. Breaks Silence About Israeli Nukes

In a sharp departure from America’s traditional silence on the matter, the Bush administration has twice in recent weeks brought up the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons.

The State Department last week called on Israel to forswear nuclear weapons and accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all nuclear activities. Earlier, a State Department mid-ranking official called on Israel, India and Pakistan to emulate Ukraine and South Africa in renouncing their nuclear weapons and join the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, known as NPT.

The comments come weeks ahead of a review conference of the treaty scheduled in New York at the beginning of May, shortly before the IAEA governing council meets in Vienna to elect a director general. The New York gathering will mark the 35th anniversary of the treaty’s enactment.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters last week that the United States “always supported universal adherence to the NPT. That remains our position.”

While the United States has officially supported a 1995 pledge calling for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, American officials have refrained from raising the issue of Israel’s suspected arsenal, fueling Arab denunciations of a double standard when it comes to nuclear capabilities.

U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Jackie Wolcott Sanders, the president’s special representative for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, addressed the issue in the April 9 edition of the State Department’s Electronic Journal.

“The conference should also reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states,” Sanders was quoted as saying.

“Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states should forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities to join the treaty,” she said. “At the same time, we recognize that progress toward universal adherence is not likely in the foreseeable future.”

On March 17, Mark Fitzpatrick, acting deputy assistant secretary for nonproliferation, made similar remarks at a security conference of the Organization of American States.

Last month, President Bush called for a strengthening of the NPT regime and for tougher efforts to stop rogue states and terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. But the president did not mention nonmember states such as India, Pakistan and Israel.

Sanders and Fitzpatrick refrained from calling explicitly on Israel, India and Pakistan to provide a concrete timetable for disposing of their weapons of mass destruction. The State Department officials simply called on these three states to verbally pledge to forswear their nuclear weapons.

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