Egypt may only be bluffing in its stated opposition to an indefinite renewal of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, according to an Israeli diplomat.
The 25-year-old treaty is now at a crossroads as its 178 signatory countries are gathered here for a four-week conference to determine how to renew it.
The treaty bans all but the five nations who had nuclear weapons in 1970, when the treaty was first ratified, from acquiring them.
The treaty permits the United States, Russia, France, Great Britain and China to remain nuclear powers, but mandates that these nations pursue the transfer of nuclear technology and nuclear weapons disarmament.
The conference can can vote to renew the treaty indefinitely, effectively making the treaty permanent, or pursue another option, such as renewing it for another 25-year term.
Bucking strong American diplomatic pressure, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa last week told the treaty review conference that his country could not support the indefinite renewal of the treaty.
For months, Egyptian officials had threatened to withhold support for indefinite renewal because of its insistence that Israel sign on.
Israel has refused to sign the treaty, though it has recently promised to begin negotiating the creation of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East — but only after there is a comprehensive regional peace that includes Iran, and Libya.
Israel is widely believed to have developed an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons, but its formal position is that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
After months of Egyptian threats, which brought Israeli-Egyptian relations to one of their tensest level in years, Moussa came before the NPT convention, saying the treaty “is incapable of safeguarding the national security of Egypt” without Israel as a member.
Israel, which is maintaining only an observer presence at the conference, expressed its disappointment with the Egyptians.
“The Egyptian statement was quite tough,” said an Israeli diplomat, who asked not to be identified.
At the same times, this diplomat suggested, Egypt might be bluffing.
“I don’t think that was the last word of the Egyptians,” he said. “I feel somewhere down the line they will change their position” and support indefinite renewal of the treaty.
The other alternative being considered is to renew the treaty for another 25- year term. But because there are no provisions in the current treaty for subsequent renewals, its future beyond the year 2020 would be uncertain.
Regardless of how Egypt decides to vote on the treaty renewal when the conference concludes in mid-May, a top Egyptian official acknowledged that his country is committed to its provisions.
“If the treaty is extended and even if Egypt doesn’t vote for it, we are bound by it,” Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Maher EI Sayed said this week.
Speaking at a forum sponsored by the National Arab American Association in Washington on Tuesday, EI Sayed dismissed Israeli concerns over the nuclear weapon programs of Iran and Iraq.
“Iran does not present any nuclear danger and at the moment, it is under constant observation by the United States,” he said, noting that Iran is a signatory to the NPT. ..TX.+”If we believe that it is cheating, take Iran to the Security Council. Take Iran to the NPT powers,” the ambassador said.
“But there is no recourse against Israel,” he maintained.
The Egyptian criticism of the treaty, and of Israel, was echoed by other Arab nations, including Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon and even Jordan, whose strong condemnation of Israel surprised many here.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Karim Kabariti, in his address to the convention last week, said Israel’s refusal to accede to the treaty “should impede confidence-building and deepen psychological barriers among states and people in the region and thus abort progress so far achieved in the ongoing peace process.”
He added, “Jordan views it [as] impossible to convince the peoples in the region of Israel’s credibility, seriousness and desire for just, durable and comprehensive peace in the Middle East” unless Israel joins the NPT.
Israeli officials said they were disappointed by the harsh tone taken by the Arabs.
But despite the attention being paid to Israel’s nuclear policies by the Arab states, an Israeli diplomat said the real question that would determine the future of the treaty is “whether the nuclear weapon state will come up with some concrete answers to non-aligned states” on issues such as security assurances, a nuclear test-ban treaty and the ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament.
Indeed, the Jordanian foreign minister spent more of his speech addressing these issues than he did addressing the Israeli question.
Another indication that the Israeli issue will blow over came at a briefing by an Iranian diplomat at the conference this week.
According to a person present at the briefing, the Iranian was asked what impact the Arab League’s efforts to make an issue of the Israeli nuclear capability would have.
“We’re happy to see that the Arab League is getting together,” the Iranian reportedly replied, “and it should be applying pressure to Israel. But will the Arab League position succeed? I doubt it.”