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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
Prospect of Nuclear Deal With Israel Dismissed
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Daniel Horner

The United States has no plans in the foreseeable future for civilian nuclear cooperation with Israel, U.S. officials said in recent weeks.

Media reports, seemingly confirmed by an Israeli cabinet minister, indicated that cooperation was at least being considered.

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama July 6 in Washington, Israeli and other media reported that the two sides had discussed civilian nuclear cooperation.

In remarks at a July 8 conference in Tel Aviv, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the United States had made a “declaration of willingness,” which he called a “breakthrough,” Bloomberg reported.

Under U.S. law and the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Israel is not eligible for major nuclear trade because it is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and has not placed all its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The George W. Bush administration successfully pushed for an exception to U.S. law and the NSG guidelines to allow nuclear trade with India. (See ACT, October 2008.) Administration officials repeatedly said India’s case was unique and that Israel and Pakistan, which, like India, have never joined the NPT and have nuclear facilities that are not under safeguards, did not qualify for similar treatment. Since then, however, officials from the two countries have argued that they should receive a comparable deal.

At a July 8 press briefing, Department of State spokesman Mark Toner said, “There’s no agreement between the United States and Israel to pursue a nuclear cooperation agreement. There was no discussion of this issue between the president and prime minister.” Asked the following day if the two leaders had had any discussions related to nuclear energy or nuclear weapons, he said, “Not that I’m aware of.” He responded similarly to a question about a reported secret letter.

In an Aug. 25 interview with Arms Control Today, a U.S. official said that although some Israeli officials have raised the issue of an India-style deal, the United States has been “unambiguous” in rejecting it under the Bush and Obama administrations. He indicated that the policy is unlikely to change any time soon. “From our side, there is no interest in having this conversation,” he said.

The geopolitical situation in the Middle East makes a U.S.-Israeli nuclear deal unrealistic, he said. “It is clear, based on our discussions with other countries in the region, that U.S.-Israeli nuclear cooperation of the sort covered in a 123 agreement would be taken as a sign that we are not serious” about establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, he said. U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements are often known as “123 agreements” because they are required by Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, the parties agreed on steps toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, including the convening of a conference in 2012. (See ACT, June 2010.)

The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the status of U.S.-Israeli nuclear cooperation.

At a March conference in Paris, Uzi Landau, Israel’s infrastructure minister, strongly reaffirmed his country’s interest in pursuing a nuclear power program and said the program could be “an area for regional cooperation.” (See ACT, April 2010.)