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Senators Minimize Israel’s Ban on Visit to Nuclear Reactor Plant

Sen. John Glenn (D.Ohio) said today that “Israel probably had her own reasons” for not allowing him and 12 fellow Senators to visit its nuclear reactor in Dimona. The former astronaut told newsmen he thought the press had overblown the importance of Senators requests to see the plant during their visit here to study the sale of two nuclear reactors to Israel.

“We did not make this a key Item that all our nuclear relations with the Mideast and with Israel in particular were going to hinge on any visit we make to Dimona. “Glenn said. He said the purpose of the Senators’ trip to Israel, Egypt and Iran was to discuss problems of “mutual interest.” He said he was much more concerned with reaching an agreement between Israel and her neighbors that would keep the area free of nuclear weapons.

REFUSAL WAS MATTER OF PRINCIPLE

Glenn and Sen. Howard Baker Jr. (R.Tenn.) had originally requested permission for the group to visit Dimona from Washington when the Middle East trip was still in the planning stage It was turned down by Israel at that time but the Senators repeated their request at a meeting with Premier Yitzhak Rabin when they arrived here Sunday. Rabin said no. Israeli officials explained that the refusal was a matter of principle and that since the Dimona reactor was built with French know-how but no American assistance, Israel did not feel obligated to open it to inspection by the American legislators.

Rabin was more flexible when the Senators raised the question of Israel’s refusal so far to sign the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Rabin said that Israel’s favored the treaty in principle but would sign it only if all other parties concerned agreed to sign a joint agreement. This is not possible under the present political circumstances. Israel apparently is relieved since there is little trust here in Arab signatures to documents.

VISIT VIEWED IN CONTEXT

The Senators’ visit is viewed as one step in the long process of purchasing a nuclear power plant that former President Nixon offered to sell Israel during his trip to the Middle East in 1974. Nixon made the same offer to Egypt. It was learned after his resignation from the Presidency that he had made the offers to both countries against the advice of Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and other advisors.

Israel eventually agreed to the strict controls that were a condition of the American sale and would apply to the Egyptian reactor as well. But the entire matter seems to be hanging fire at this time in view of President-elect Jimmy Carter’s assertion that he would make tighter controls over nuclear development one of the key points of his foreign policy.

Yesterday, the Senators visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, met with faculty members of the Hebrew University and took party in a forum at the Institute of International Relations.

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