Mideast Speeds Up Nuclear Projects

Several Arab countries in recent months have boosted their nuclear programs, in what experts believe is a response to Iran's aggressive drive to acquire nuclear weapons.

All the countries concerned, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lybia, claim that they aim to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Analysts, however, point out that some of the nations in question are in possession of huge oil reserves, which can easily be used to produce cheap electricity, thereby eliminating the need for the costly development of nuclear facilities.

Experts are particularly curious as to the nuclear programs in some states in the Persian Gulf - a region which holds approximately 25 percent of the Earth's oil reserve. Some experts stress that peaceful nuclear technology can easily be converted to serve a nuclear weapons program.

Virtually all the Arab countries in question indicated last year that they would consider launching programs for developing nuclear technology, just as the Iranian nuclear program began grabbing headlines all over the world.

Analysts note, for example, Turkey's recent announcement that it would soon begin building three nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes. The announcement came approximately one year after Iran declared it would not cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the analysts say.

In a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, Joseph Cirincione, director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, offered an alternative explanation. Cirincione and his Israeli associate, Uri Leventer, a graduate student at Harvard University, argued that the nuclear surge in the Middle East is due to the interests of global powers, competing to sell their nuclear technology.

In their article, Cirincione and Leventer noted French President Nicolas Sarkozy's recent signing of a nuclear cooperation deal with Libya. Sarkozy later agreed to help the United Arab Emirates launch its own civilian nuclear program. Indicating that this could be just the beginning of a major sale and supply effort, Sarkozy declared that the West should trust Arab states with nuclear technology.

The former military adviser to Congress went on to warn that "if the existing territorial, ethnic, and political disputes continue unresolved, this is a recipe for nuclear war."

This is where the nuclear Mideast surge stands:

1. Yemen earlier this week announced its intention to purchase its first nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes. The Yemenite news agency said the reactor was needed for producing electricity.

2. Jordan's foreign minister, Abdelelah Al-Khatib, told Haaretz last month that his country was promoting a nuclear program which is "geared toward electricity production, and that it will be a completely transparent, according to the criteria established by the International Atomic Energy Agency."

3. Egypt announced last year that it intended to resume its nuclear program. Cairo has maintained a policy of apparent ambiguity, but the government said it intended to build four nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes within 10 years.