By Baher Kamal* | IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint
CAIRO (IDN) – Not that nuclear issues are an actual source of concern to Egyptian citizens. They are deeply worried about their present and immediate future now that inter-religious violence is on the rise, triggering a dangerous, growing insecurity amidst an overwhelming popular discontent with President Mohamed Morsi’s regime. Simply put, there is too much frustration and deception here to think of nukes.
Nevertheless, it is also a fact that the governments of Arabs countries in general, and in the Gulf region in particular – following reported U.S. political pressures – have lately been expressing increasing fear of Iran’s nuclear programme and therefore focusing, again, on nukes.
In fact, Bahrain’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ghanum Fadhel Al Buainain, and Foreign Affairs Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa, told this journalist in Manama in March that their nation – as well as all other Gulf countries – do not want to hear a word about any nuclear activities, even for peaceful purposes.
Their arguments are that even civil nuclear activities of whatever nature, have strong, negative impacts on the very lives and livelihoods of the Gulf peoples, from polluting waters and thus affecting the fish – which historically constitutes the main source of living – to the risk of a nuclear accident.
These anxieties are shared by Egypt, which has always played a pivotal role in efforts aimed at declaring the Middle East a nuclear-free-zone. In fact, Egyptian diplomacy continues to undertake efforts in that direction in spite of the internal situation, with the support of Arab countries.
Egypt’s perspective was explained to this journalist by one of the country’s top experts on this issue, Major General (Ret.) Mohamed Kadry Said, Military and Technology Advisor and head of the Military Studies Unit at theAl-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo
Mohamed Kadry believes that in spite of all obstacles, a major breakthrough is required to end the current nuclear deadlock in the region, where Israel is the only atomic power, though the Iranian nuclear programme continues to draw attention – and sanctions – in Western countries.
Should such a breakthrough not happen, Egypt and Arab countries may withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which they were pushed to join in 1995 in exchange of U.S. promises to free the Middle East from atomic warheads, Israeli nuclear arsenal included.
Mohamed Kadry emphasized that currently no Arab country in the region has a ‘declared’ nuclear project. “The only exception in the Middle East is Israel. I am talking about the Arabs, not Iran, not Pakistan,” he said.
Asked how he viewed the fact that Israel is estimated to have some 230 nuclear bombs – a figure that exceeds the combined number of atomic warheads in India and Pakistan – Mohamed Kadry said the number of Israel’s nuclear warheads varies according to different estimates, though the figure of 150 heads has been most often circulated.
Some estimates put this number between 100 and 200 nuclear bombs. “Anyway, whether 100 or 200 it does not make a real difference. The really important fact here is that the very possession of nukes is dreadful.”
Following are excerpts from this journalist’s interview with the Kadry:
Question: During their last five-year periodical NPT review conference in New York in May 2010, participants agreed to launch an international conference to discuss ways how to free the Middle East from nuclear weapons. After intensive negotiations, Finland announced the hosting of such a conference in Helsinki last year. But the meeting has been postponed . . .
Mohamed Kadry (MK): Let me give you some background. Because of dreadful consequences and the menace emerging from any new atomic power, the international community decided to establish the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).
The initial idea was that the Treaty would be open to all countries to join, with a review or a renewal discussion process every ten years, after which any country could renew its membership in the Treaty or just withdraw from it. At the beginning, Egypt and Arab countries decided not to join the Treaty . . .
MK: Perhaps because they considered it ‘useless’ in view of the fact that it was a Treaty out of which anybody could walk out. At this stage the U.S. appeared on the scene pressurising Egypt and the Arabs as well as Iran to join the NPT. They agreed to join in exchange of two promises: that the Treaty would be valid indefinitely – instead of being renewable every ten years – and that efforts would be made to free the Middle East from nuclear weapons. Of course, this would include Israel. All that process culminated in 1995. [The Treaty was opened for signature in 1968, and it entered into force in 1970. On May 11, 1995, it was extended indefinitely.]
Q: That very year the UN Security Council issued a resolution on the need to free the region from atomic weapons. Any breakthrough since then?
MK: The fact that the Security Council’s resolution was adopted in 1995 did mean that the whole issue would be settled that very year. It would be the starting point . . .
Q: But with the exception of the 2010 decision to hold an international conference to find ways how to eliminate nuclear weapons in the Middle East, nothing has happened over the last 18 years. Why should then the Arab countries in the region continue to be a part of the Treaty?
MK: The fact is that Arab research centres have met on several occasions in the previous months to discuss precisely this point. So far, there is a general consensus that if the planned Helsinki conference is not held this year, in 2013, then we would recommend to Arab governments to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Q: The Iranian nuclear programme was launched in 2003, before current president Ahmadi Nijad was elected. Tehran claimed that it can enrich its uranium by 20 percent. But the scientific community assures that an atomic bomb requires 95 per cent enriched uranium. Do you think Iran has the capability to produce nuclear weapons?
MK: Yes, definitely!
Q: Are you saying that Iran already has nuclear weapons?
MK: I said that they have the “capability” to produce them . . . this is a very complex process.
Q: Back to the Middle East nuclear-free-zone and the postponed Helsinki conference. Do you think that such a conference will ever take place?
MK: Yes, I do believe so.
Q: With a specific, legally binding, and an applicable outcome?
MK: I believe something will happen . . . I mean a breakthrough like what occurred after the Second World War.
Q: Such a breakthrough would really imply the elimination of all nukes in the Middle East, including Israeli atomic arsenal? How realistic is this?
MK: I think so. Realistic? Who did expect all those major changes that happened after the Second World War, particularly in Europe?
*Baher Kamal is an Egyptian-born Spanish national with nearly 40 years of professional experience as a journalist. He is Publisher and Director of Human Wrongs Watch, Spain. [IDN-InDepthNews – May 3, 2013]