Jordan's King Abdullah speaks in Amman, February 20, 2011.
Jordan's King Abdullah speaking in Amman, February 20, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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Israeli officials have rebutted claims by King Abdullah II that Israel has tried to thwart Jordan's civilian nuclear energy program, saying it has not intervened and has even provided the Kingdom with material assistance.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse 10 days ago, Abdullah said, "When we started going down the road of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, we approached some highly responsible countries to work with us. And pretty soon we realized that Israel was putting pressure on those countries to disrupt any cooperation with us."

This wasn't the first time Abdullah has leveled such accusations; he made similar claims in an interview with The Wall Street Journal two years ago. But after a round of quiet diplomacy, Israel thought the matter had been settled. So Abdullah's latest accusation - made on the eve of last week's International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna - surprised and angered Israeli nuclear officials.

During the conference, several representatives of Western countries asked the Israeli delegation about Abdullah's accusation. "The Americans and the French knew the Jordanian claims were wrong, but there were more than a few other countries that asked us what we want from the Jordanians," said David Danieli, deputy director of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission.

Due to these inquiries, the Israeli delegation decided it needed to respond officially. So a paragraph on the subject was added to the speech that Shaul Chorev, head of the IAEC, delivered at the conference: "With regards to Jordan's civilian nuclear program, I wish to emphasize that Israel supports the use of nuclear power by its neighbors, to meet their energy and water needs," he said.

"Israel believes in the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the Middle East, as long as states fully honor their international nonproliferation obligations," he continued. "As for the selection of Jordan's nuclear power site, Israel also provided comprehensive geological data to the Kingdom upon its request."

Danieli said on Saturday that Jordan officially informed Israel in 2010 that it was considering building a nuclear power plant near Aqaba, both to produce electricity and to help it desalinate water. It then asked Israel for geological data about the area, which Israel supplied.

"We told them we had a lot of data from the Geophysical Institute, which did a comprehensive study of the Eilat region and the Gulf of Aqaba as part of its preparations for the possibility of an earthquake, and we gave them all the material," Danieli said. "The material we sent, together with other considerations on the Jordanians' part, caused them to change their minds and move the reactor site from Aqaba to the area north of Amman. We have no problem with a civilian nuclear program in Jordan, and it's a good question why the Jordanians are saying otherwise."

Israel also succeeded in thwarting various resolutions aimed at its own nuclear program during the conference - first and foremost a Russian proposal to convene an international conference on making the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone. The United States joined Israel in opposing it, and eventually, the Russians withdrew it.