Jordan wants peaceful nuclear program
AMMAN, Jordan – King Abdullah II said Friday that Jordan wants to develop a peaceful nuclear program, joining Egypt and Arab Gulf countries in considering a nuclear option. Arab nations are fearful over the West’s failure to stop Shiite Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which they worry will lead to Tehran having an atomic weapon.Arab countries have complained for years about Israel’s nuclear program and reported arsenal, but it never prompted them to seek programs of their own.But Iran’s progress in building nuclear facilities has sparked a rush among Arab nations to look at programs of their own, raising the possibility of a dangerous proliferation of nuclear technology – or even weapons – in the volatile Middle East.Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, nations where Sunni Muslims predominate, have expressed concern over Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon. Now they fear the mainly Shiite Persian nation could develop warheads to back its growing regional power.Any significant Arab nuclear program is likely years away, and some observers are skeptical that cash-strapped countries like Egypt and Jordan have the resources for such facilities. But simply announcing the intention could be meant as a signal to Iran that its ties to Arab nations will suffer over its nuclear endeavors – and to the United States that its Arab allies are concerned.”Jordan is trying to toss another log on the fire and … obliquely point out to the Iranians that the acquisition of such a weapon would create such pressure on the Arab neighbors (to respond) that acquiring the bomb would not be useful” for Iran, said Justin Logan, a foreign policy analyst at the Washington-based Cato Institute.The Jordanian king announced his interest in a nuclear program in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Abdullah said his kingdom wanted nuclear power “for peaceful purposes” and has been “discussing it with the West.””The rules governing the nuclear issue have changed in the entire region,” he told Haaretz. Though Jordan would rather see a nuclear-free Middle East, he said, “every desire we had on this issue has changed.”Abdullah said all nuclear programs in the region should be subject to international inspection. “We want to make sure this is used for energy. What we don’t want is an arms race to come out of this,” he said.Washington has so far shown no objection to nuclear moves among its Mideast allies.Deputy spokesman Tom Casey, without mentioning Jordan by name, said Friday that every country that adheres strictly to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “has the right to develop civilian nuclear power for the benefit of their people.”The United States offered to help Egypt with nuclear technology after President Hosni Mubarak announced in September that his country would revive plans for a nuclear program, shelved in the aftermath of the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant.Two months later, the leaders of the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman – said they would consider starting a joint nuclear program for peaceful purposes.The sudden interest in nuclear programs is “clearly tied up in the political battle between Iran and the West,” said Jon Wolfsthal, who follows Iran for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.Repeated efforts by the U.S. and its allies to halt Iran’s program, including U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed last month, have failed to dissuade Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Washington and Israel believe Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is peaceful and intended to produce electricity.”The Iranians left us no option, so this is our answer to them. Now Arabs have no option but to start a program under a civilian banner,” said Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.He said that while individual Arab countries may not have the resources for the expensive programs, collectively they would. And he warned that heightened tensions in the region could “trigger a race for arms.”Abdullah’s choice to announce his nuclear ambitions in Haaretz may have been an attempt to reassure Israel, with which Jordan has a peace treaty, that the program was not directed at it.Israel is believed to have an arsenal of several hundred warheads, though it has never officially confirmed it. Arab countries have repeatedly called for the weapons to be eliminated.But more often now they warn of the possibility that Tehran’s nuclear drive could destabilize the region, leading to military conflict between Iran and the United States and Israel that would catch Arab nations in the middle.Arab countries have avoided directly accusing Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, reluctant to be seen siding with the United States. But the turmoil in Iraq has raised their worries over Iran’s influence with Shiite politicians and militias there, and they see new Shiite assertiveness in Lebanon as a sign of Iran’s meddling.Logan said the U.S. could use Arab nuclear programs as leverage against Tehran by pointing out to Iran that its nuclear ambitions “could be a detriment to you, because the question is how long Iran would be the only Islamic country in your neighborhood to have the capacity.”—-AP writers George Jahn in Vienna, Austria, and Matti Friedman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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