Israel/US disagree on nuclear policy…

From a May 2006 article:

Israel, U.S. at odds over nuke treaty proposal

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent
The United States on Thursday published a draft of a new international treaty that would forbid the production of fissionable materials for use in nuclear weapons, overriding Israel’s objections to the proposed document. The draft, which was presented to the UN Disarmament Commission in Geneva, aims to “freeze” existing stocks of fissionable materials worldwide in order to keep them from expanding. Although Washington sent messages to Israel assuring it that it has nothing to fear from the treaty, Jerusalem is worried by any move that might erode its policy of nuclear ambiguity and generate future pressures on it over its nuclear program. As a result, Israel made a last-minute effort to persuade the U.S. not to submit the draft for discussion: The chairman and deputy chairman of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, Gideon Frank and Eli Levita, were in Washington last week, where they are believed to have raised this issue with their American counterparts.

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Washington has also rejected Israel’s request for an upgrade in its civilian nuclear status. Israel’s ability to purchase civilian nuclear technology, including spare parts, is currently very limited, because in order to preserve ambiguity over whether it has nuclear weapons, it has refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Some 10 months ago, however, the U.S. signed an agreement to sell civilian nuclear technology to India, which has also not signed the NPT; and while that agreement has not yet been ratified by Congress, Israel was hoping that it could cut a similar deal. However, the U.S. said that it is too soon to discuss Israel’s request on this issue, since it requires thorough study by administration professionals first. The administration therefore asked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert not to raise this issue during his visit to Washington next week. The proposed “nuclear-freeze” treaty first came up for discussion in the UN Disarmament Commission eight years ago, and aroused serious concerns in Israel. Then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a forceful letter to then president Bill Clinton saying that for security reasons, Israel would never sign such a treaty, and Ehud Barak, then head of the opposition, also signed the letter, to show that there was unanimity on this issue among Israel’s two major parties.

In response, Clinton sent Netanyahu a letter pledging that the U.S. would consult with Israel over any arms-control initiative liable to affect it, and he reiterated this pledge in a letter to Barak when Barak was elected prime minister.

The new draft of the treaty proposed by the U.S. on Thursday is less strict than previous drafts. It would require signatories to pledge not to produce plutonium or enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, but would establish no control and verification mechanism. It would also not apply to preexisting stocks of fissionable materials.

Egypt, which has been waging an international campaign against Israel’s nuclear program, immediately responded by demanding that the treaty cover preexisting stocks as well, and that it include a control and verification mechanism.

Other countries also have reservations about the draft, so it appears unlikely that it will be approved anytime soon.

Even if approved, however, the treaty would do nothing to halt Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, since Iran insists that it is enriching uranium strictly for civilian use.

Washington decided to move forward with the treaty as part of its effort to obtain ratification for its deal with India. The deal requires ratification by two bodies – the U.S. Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), an umbrella organization of 45 countries that export nuclear fuel and technology.

The administration has encountered strong opposition from both bodies, and the new treaty is aimed at softening this opposition.

Alongside its talks with Washington, Israel has been negotiating with the NSG in an effort to obtain associate status, or at least formal recognition that it complies with the NSG’s export guidelines, which have been enacted into Israeli law.

Two weeks ago, NSG Chairman Roald Naess visited Jerusalem to discuss this issue.

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