U.S., Israel to Cooperate on Civilian Nuclear Issues

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Israel's Negev Nuclear Research Center, Dimona.Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive

In the wake of the nuclear agreement with Iran, the United States has agreed to openly cooperate with Israel on civilian nuclear issues, even though Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced the major policy shift in a joint statement last week.

Israel is one of only four UN member states that have never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Soreq Nuclear Research Center is under voluntary supervision, but the nuclear facility in Dimona is not supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

As a result, and because Israel has refused monitoring of its nuclear program, there is no institutional cooperation between Israel and other countries on nuclear issues.

The United States and Israel have a long history of nuclear cooperation. Washington supplied Soreq’s reactor as part of an agreement for peaceful  cooperation under President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. In 2008, Washington and Jerusalem agreed for Israel to return all its spent fuel rods to the United States, in preparation for the reactor’s closure in 2018.

In April 2009, less than three months after taking office, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech in Prague outlining his nuclear policy, which included a strengthening of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This was followed in 2010 by an American demand for Israel to sign the treaty — a demand that later disappeared.

At the IAEA’s annual conferences, the United States continues to help Israel deflect appeals by Arab states for supervision of Israel’s nuclear facilities.

Last week, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is also in charge of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, met with U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in Washington.

According to a joint statement on the Department of Energy website, “The dialogue, held regularly since 2011, includes staff exchanges and discussions in the areas of natural gas development, cybersecurity, energy-water nexus, civil nuclear energy, and research and development activities.” The statement does not provide specifics on the cooperation.

Behind all this is the nuclear agreement with Iran, which includes broad civilian nuclear cooperation with Tehran. Washington presumably got the message that Israel could not be left out.

In the long term, Israel hopes to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States similar to the one President George W. Bush signed with India. That treaty includes broad civilian nuclear cooperation, including the purchase of materials — a sensitive and complex issue for Israel.

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