The State Department yesterday called on Israel to forswear nuclear weapons and accept international Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on all nuclear activities.
This is the second time in about two weeks that officials in the Bush administration are putting the nuclear weapons of Israel, India and Pakistan on a par.
The officials called on the three to act like Ukraine and South Africa, which in the last decade renounced their nuclear weapons.
The similar phrasing used by the officials refers to Israel's military nuclear capability, as distinct from "nuclear option," which is to be rolled back, although not necessarily in the "foreseeable future."
The rare use of these terms contradicts the custom of senior administration officials to avoid any possible confirming reference to Israeli nuclear weapons.
The officials, who hold middle-level and lower ranks, are Jackie Wolcott Sanders, ambassador, Conference on Disarmament and special representative of the president for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and Mark Fitzpatrick, acting deputy assistant secretary for nonproliferation.
Sanders was quoted yesterday in the State Department's Electronic Journal, published ahead of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference scheduled in New York at the beginning of May.
Fitzpatrick spoke on March 17 at a security conference of the Organization of American States (OAS).
On March 7 President George Bush called for a strengthening of the NPT regime and thwarting the efforts of rogue states and terrorists to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Bush devoted his statement to enforcing NPT clauses on treaty regime members (like North Korea and Iran) and ignored non-member states (India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba).
In the past six years, since the Wye conference in 1998, presidents Clinton and Bush repeatedly promised then prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak and also Ariel Sharon that Israel's strategic capability to protect itself will not be harmed.
Israeli experts on Bush's nuclear policy say that the president is focusing on objecting to the nuclear process of North Korea and Iran, and even approves aid to India - in nuclear energy among other things - and to Pakistan (selling F-16 planes), while far lower ranks abound with verbal formulas to excuse the withdrawal of the NPT regime during the Bush era.
Sanders and Fitzpatrick refrained from calling on Israel, India and Pakistan explicitly to renounce their weapons. The expectation of these three states was phrased in terms of a vow - a verbal pledge to forswear, rather than real action. Nor was this demand accompanied by a time table, conditions and sanctions.
An official known for his sympathy for Israel, Robert Joseph, has been nominated undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and has been serving in a similar position on the staff of the National Security Council. His predecessor in the post is UN ambassador-designate John Bolton, also known for his sympathy for Israel.
Sanders and Fitzpatrick hold more junior ranks in the administration.
In her statement yesterday Sanders said: "The Conference should also reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states. Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states should forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities to join the treaty. At the same time, we recognize that progress toward universal adherence is not likely in the foreseeable future. The United States continues to support the goals of the Middle East resolution adopted at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, including the achievement of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction."
According to the Israeli experts, the American administration does not want to expand nuclear proliferation to additional states in the region and agrees that in time it would be preferable to have the Middle East nuclear free, but disagrees with the immediate adoption of a policy which would prevent American forces like the Sixth Fleet ships and airplanes from carrying nuclear warheads in bombs and missiles as well.
This is the seventh time that the Review Conference is convening, to mark the 35th year of the NPT's establishment. The conference, held every five years, will end at the end of May, shortly before the IAEA governing council meets in Vienna in June to elect a director general. The U.S. has not decided yet whether to support incumbent IAEA Director General, Mohammed ElBaradei for another term.