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Egypt _ Despite Rising Anger _ Pushes Israel to Sign Nuclear Treaty

February 23, 1995

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Egypt’s campaign to force Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is angering the Jewish state and upsetting the Americans. Still, Egypt persists in drafting other Arab states to its side.

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.

Outlining Egypt’s view, Foreign Minister Amr 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.″

Egypt says it will not support renewal of the 25-year-old treaty, due for review in April, unless Israel signs.

Israel does not admit to having nuclear weapons. But it maintains it cannot join the pact while threatened by Iraq and Iran, which it accuses of covertly developing atomic weapons.

``Their suspicion is our deterrent,″ says Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who met in Cairo today with President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the subject.

After a 90-minute session, Peres and Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told reporters they will continue discussions at the Foreign Ministry, then return to meet again with Mubarak. They refused to give details on their talks.

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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