Trump Reverses U.S. Policy: Israeli Nukes Not Up for Debate Until Mideast States Recognize Country's Right to Exist

Trump administration adopts Israeli stance ahead of talks on nuclear-free Middle East

The Dimona nuclear plant, 2002.
Thomas Coex/AFP

The Trump administration has taken the position that Israel should not be required to discuss giving up nuclear weapons, which according to foreign sources it possesses, without recognition by all states in Middle East of the country’s right to exist.

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Preparatory talks are currently being held in Geneva in advance of a conference in 2020 on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a meeting that is held every five years. Israel is not a signatory to the treaty, but Egypt has been actively seeking the adoption of resolutions in various international forums that would force consideration of Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal.

In 2010, the signatories of the treaty adopted a resolution — in the face of Israeli opposition — calling for the convening of a conference on making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. Finland was to host and organize the conference, but the Finnish mediator was unsuccessful in forging a consensus on such a meeting. In 2015, the United States scuttled an Egyptian proposal to force such a conference on Israel. The Obama administration took the position that disarmament could only be carried out through dialogue with Israel.

Israel took the position that the issue of nuclear weapons could not be divorced from security issues in the region or from the state of war that exists between Israel and some other countries. Israel also argued that some of the signatories to the treaty, including Iran, Syria and Libya, were attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

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Last week, the United States submitted two position papers to the Geneva preparatory committee that fully adopt Israel’s stance. The Americans expressed a commitment to a nuclear-free Middle East but added: “Regrettably, efforts to make progress have been hampered by conceptual differences among the regional states regarding establishing such a zone and the unwillingness of some regional states to constructively address those differences. Rather than addressing these issues directly with their regional neighbors, some regional states have sought to use the [treaty] review cycle as a way to force action, including by trying to impose conditions that could not garner consensus among regional states. Such efforts are mistaken and unproductive.”

The United States said the round of talks mediated by Finland demonstrated the limitations involved in focusing on nuclear weapons without addressing regional political and security issues. “The Middle East region suffers from a persistent and well-documented lack of trust among the regional states, owing from decades of instability, armed conflict, and politically-motivated division. Efforts to build trust and confidence in the region are significantly complicated by the refusal of a number of regional states to recognize and engage Israel as a sovereign state and proclivity to instead pursue divisive actions to isolate Israel wherever possible,” the American position paper states.

“The lack of trust in the region is further exacerbated by a legacy of persistent and ongoing noncompliance in the region with [weapons of mass destruction]-related obligations.” The paper noted that Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria had all pursued undeclared WMD programs.

“Iran, in particular, continues to engage in extensive destabilizing activities across the region” the position paper adds.