Menu JTA Search

U.S. Confirms It is Developing Middle East Arms Control Plan

The White House has confirmed news reports that the United States and its key allies are exploring possible new weapons curbs in the Middle East.

But it would not say whether an Israeli nuclear weapons ban is under consideration.

“We are a long way from a decision and a plan,” was about all presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater would say Tuesday.

At a 15-minute news conference Tuesday, President Bush confirmed his administration is working on the problem of arms control but said he was not ready to provide any details.

“There are all kinds of options out there,” Bush added. “There’s a lot of sympathy for the idea of trying to get control of weapons.”

According to a report Tuesday in The New York Times, a proposal being floated by the administration would ban Israel from producing material for nuclear weapons and would require Arab nations to give up their chemical weapons.

The proposal also would require all Middle East nations to relinquish ballistic missiles with a range of more than 90 miles.

A pro-Israel lobbyist dismissed the possibility that either the Arabs or Israel would agree to such a plan, because “there’s just no level of trust yet in the region.”

The Israeli Embassy had no official reaction to the report, citing the absence of any formal U.S. arms proposal.

ENHANCED SAUDI IMAGE

Bruce Williams, a Washington consultant who was military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1975 to 1980, said the United States should strive for arms limitations in the Middle East that are “equally taken across the board.”

Williams said the curbs should also be supported by arms-supplying countries around the globe, especially the European nations and the Soviet Union.

He added that he does not expect the Arab nations to agree to forego nuclear weapons if Israel is allowed to retain any weapons it may have. Similarly, he said Israel would not agree to any nuclear curbs absent a peace treaty between it and the Arab countries with whom it is still technically in a state of war.

If anything has changed on the arms front in recent days, Williams said, it is that Saudi Arabia has “enhanced its image” in Congress for any possible arms package by deciding to send and observer to the proposed Middle East regional peace conference through its membership in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

But the pro-Israel lobbyist played down the significance of the Saudi move. “I don’t think that Congress is jumping up and down and saying that this is wonderful,” he said.

NEXT STORY