Report: 6 Arab countries announce plans for nuclear programs

By Haaretz Service

Haaretz

Cheshvan 14, 2006

Six Arab states have announced plans to embark on programs to develop nuclear energy, according to a report by the Times of London.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the countries involved are Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.

The report states that the move, which follows the failure by the West to curb Iran's controversial nuclear program, may signal an upcoming rapid spread of nuclear reactors in the Middle East and North Africa.

The six countries have expressed a desire to build civilian nuclear energy programs, which are permitted under international law, the paper said.

But according to the report, the sudden rush to nuclear power has raised suspicions that the real intention is to acquire nuclear technology which could be used for the first Arab atomic bomb.

The Times report quoted Tomihiro Taniguchi, the deputy director-general of the IAEA, as telling the business weekly Middle East Economic Digest that the countries are seeking nuclear power "primarily for desalinization purposes."

But Mark Fitzpatrick, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that it was clear that the sudden drive for nuclear expertise was to provide the Arabs with a "security hedge," the report said.

According to the Times, the announcement by the six countries presents a reversal of policy in the Arab world, which had until recently been pressing for a nuclear free Middle East, where only Israel has nuclear weapons.