DATE=5/5/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=U-S/ISRAEL NUKES NUMBER=5-46271 BYLINE=NICK SIMEONE DATELINE=STATE DEPARTMENT CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Arab nations led by Egypt are once again putting pressure on Israel over its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And, at a United Nations conference underway in New York, Arab states are urging the United States to back a move that would isolate Israel. Correspondent Nick Simeone reports the issue is coming up at a particularly delicate time in the Middle East peace process. TEXT: Washington may be about to find itself caught between its Middle East allies at a time when it is trying to work out the final terms of an Israeli- Palestinian peace agreement. Israel is one of several nations that refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Arms control analysts estimate that Israel may have up to 200 nuclear weapons. Its longstanding view is that its own security is enhanced if its Arab neighbors are kept guessing about its nuclear capabilities. But at a non-proliferation conference in New York, Egypt has been leading the Arab cause in pressing the United States to support a move that would isolate Israel for its stand. The last thing Washington wants at this delicate moment in the Arab-Israeli peace process is a showdown with Israel over the nuclear issue. For years, successive U-S administrations have angered Arab nations by taking a hands-off [EDS: non-committal] policy over Israel's undeclared nuclear potential, believing that if the region can work toward peace, the nuclear issue would be of less concern. But Egypt's ambassador to the United Nations, Ahmed Aboulgheit, thinks this position is no longer tenable. /// ABOULGHEIT ACT /// We have the support of the Arab group. We have the support of the non-aligned countries. We have the understanding of the Europeans and the other permanent members. And I think the Americans today are coming to recognize that this is a situation that they have to face, and being factual is not a matter that would be detrimental to anybody. /// END ACT /// Israel's undeclared nuclear capability is such a sensitive issue that the Clinton Administration doesn't want to talk about it -- at least not on the record. But privately, one official agreed with the Egyptian view, saying it's going to be very hard down the road to overlook Israel's nuclear potential if the world wants to keep countries like Iraq under sanctions for trying to go nuclear as well. Experts on the Middle East, like Georgetown University professor Anthony Cordesman, believe it's long past time that Israel be made to account for its own nuclear program. /// CORDESMAN ACT /// There's a well-established body of literature, much of it by Israeli experts, on the Israeli nuclear program. Pretending it doesn't exist really doesn't help regional stability at this point. /// END ACT /// Israel has never acknowledged having nuclear weapons, despite the mounting evidence that it does. There's a good reason for that, beyond deterrence, says Luke Warren, an analyst at the Washington-based Council for a Livable World. /// WARREN ACT /// If Israel declares it has nuclear weapons, then by U-S law, we automatically have to impose military and economic sanctions on them. So to a large degree, Israel is walking a line of not confirming and not denying so that they don't draw automatic U-S repercussions. It's like Taiwan not declaring independence against China even though technically they pretty much are. /// END ACT /// But by not addressing Israel's nuclear capabilities, experts like Anthony Cordesman don't see how any real progress can be made on non-proliferation issues in the Middle East. /// CORDESMAN ACT /// At present, by not being able to talk about Israel's nuclear program, you can't talk about any aspect of arms control. The American viewpoint should be frankly to block proliferation regardless of what country is involved. /// END ACT /// And that's precisely what U-S policy is. It's just that U-S officials will not go as far as singling out Israel in public, letting Arab allies do it instead. (SIGNED) NEB/NJS/JP 05-May-2000 13:27 PM EDT (05-May-2000 1727 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .