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Egypt, Israel Fail to Bridge Nuclear Rift

February 23, 1995

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Egypt and Israel failed today to bridge a rift over the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but agreed to hold further talks on the issue that has soured their relations.

``We reached agreement on some points. We didn’t agree on others,″ Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said. ``We agreed to continue consultations.″

He declined to give details, but emphasized the dispute should not affect the Israeli-Arab peace process or Egypt’s role as mediator. Peres spoke after 3 1/2 hours of talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Amr Moussa.

Egypt has demanded that Israel sign the anti-nuclear treaty, which is due for review in April. Otherwise, it has said it will not support renewal of the 25-year-old pact.

Officially, Egypt says its crusade has a simple motivation: It doesn’t want a nuclear arsenal on its border.

But the issue also gives Egypt a tool for reasserting its leadership among Arabs who view it as too close to Israel.

Moussa says it’s hypocritical for Israel to seek to widen peace with the Arabs while hiding the only nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

``We can’t talk about a new regional order and then permit a unique nuclear program in our next door neighbor,″ he said. ``They can’t have their cake and eat it too.″

Israel doesn’t admit to having nuclear weapons, but it is believed to have up to 300 nuclear warheads. It maintains it cannot join the pact while threatened by Iraq and Iran, which it accuses of covertly developing atomic weapons.

Egyptian officials say Peres has been seeking ``some middle ground″ to end the increasingly acrimonious debate. He has hinted Israel could invite Egyptian scientists to inspect at least one of its nuclear installations _ an aging, U.S.-supplied research reactor at Nahal Sorek.

Egypt’s campaign is not expected to block renewal of the treaty, but it could weaken Arab support for it. Two years ago, many Arab states boycotted a global chemical weapons treaty, joining Egypt in arguing the pact was meaningless when Israel had an estimated 300 nuclear warheads.

But analysts say Egypt risks losing support from the Clinton administration _ the leading advocate for indefinite renewal of the treaty _ at a time when the U.S. Congress wants to cut foreign aid.

Egypt and Israel are the two biggest recipients of U.S. foreign aid _ a total of about $6 billion annually.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin also accuses Egypt of trying to discourage Muslim countries from normalizing relations with the Jewish state _ a tactic which could maintain a key role for Egypt in the peace process.

Rabin’s characterization of Egyptian tactics as ``a foul wind″ prompted a rare public retort from Mubarak. ``Are they going to accuse us of an anti-Israeli policy every time we disagree on something?″ he asked.

Israeli analyst Gerald Steinberg believes Egypt is motivated not by security concerns but by pride.

Egypt, which made peace with Israel 16 years ago, has seen its role as a Middle East mediator diminish as Israel has signed treaties with Jordan and the Palestinians and had contacts with other Arab nations, Steinberg argues.

Yet he sees Egypt’s position on nuclear arms as a ``win-win″ situation: ``If they fail, they still led the Arab world on this critical issue. If they succeed, they’ll get lots of credit in the Arab world for this.″

Egypt’s campaign has won wide Arab support.

At a meeting Feb. 6, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Syria and six Gulf nations demanded Israel sign the pact. A week later, technical experts from the 22-member Arab League endorsed Egypt’s call for a regional ban on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

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