Wikileaks reveals US concerns over Egypt in pre-NPT diplomatic dialogue

  • US plotted with Israel and France to block discussion on Middle East nuclear weapons free zone.

Among the US diplomatic documents released today (29 November) by Wikileaks are secret communications from US Embassies in Tel Aviv and Paris which reveal how the US government plotted to block discussion on a Middle East nuclear weapons free zone and neutralise Egypt's attempts to raise the issue at May's Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Ellen Tauscher, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, met officials from Israel and France in the weeks before the NPT Review Conference to discuss the USA's arms control agenda and strategy for the conference.   A key element of both meetings was discussion of ways to disarm Egypt's insistence on pushing for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, which the US saw as a way of diverting attention away from Iran's nuclear enrichment programme and onto Israel instead.  In the event, despite the USA's suspicions, the Egyptian delegation was widely seen as having played a pivotal role in brokering a successful outcome to the NPT Review Conference.

At meetings in Tel Aviv with Israeli national security advisors before the Review Conference, Tauscher pledged that the United States would not take any action that might compromise Israel's security and would consult closely with Israel over the conference.  Israeli government officials at the meeting were critical of US proposals to explore even small steps involving Israel which would address some of Egypt's concerns regarding the lack of progress in implementing a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East – a key pledge agreed at the 1995 NPT Review conference – and questioned why Israel should be portrayed as part of the problem in preventing nuclear proliferation in the region.

Tauscher's concerns about Egypt's potential role at the conference  were said to be “based on previous decades of behaviour and '10-15 year-old talking points.'”   She told the Israelis at the meeting that her message to Cairo would be "very tough," and stated that Egyptian behaviour in linking Israel to discussions on Iran's nuclear programme was not helping Egypt.

Despite concerns that Egypt's negotiating approach would direct attention away from Iran, Amos Gilad, Israel's Political-Military Chief at the Ministry of Defence, told Tauscher that he was not sure whether Tehran had decided it wanted a nuclear weapon, although he felt it was determined to obtain the option to build one.  He expressed the view that it would not be clear when Iran has reached the "point of no return" in its nuclear programme and doubted whether Iran would choose to let it become overtly known that it has produced a nuclear weapon.
Tauscher also met her French counterparts to discuss the NPT Review conference in February, where options for minimizing the threat of disruptive Egyptian behaviour were also discussed.

French officials agreed with the US analysis that the Egyptians would, if unchecked, work to undermine the RevCon with an aggressive posture on the Middle East NWFZ resolution.  Tauscher stated that if Egypt was still not willing to budge following minimal compromises from the US, it might be worth seeking other Non-Aligned Movement states that could be separated from Egypt with promises of assistance that Egypt would no longer receive.

At the meeting the Under Secretary of State reassured France, which has been unwilling to accept President Obama's goal of a world without nuclear weapons, that the US position on disarmament was not far from France's and that the US would not move precipitously on its arms control agenda and would take allies' interests into account.

French national security advisors at the meeting stressed France's commitment to its nuclear weapons, and expressed opposition to language calling for a "world without nuclear weapons" in the communiqué for Obama's Nuclear Security Summit which preceded the NPT Review Conference.  Tauscher instead suggested using wording agreed in the statement from the July 2009 G8 summit to gain a consensus: “we are…committed to…creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, in accordance with the goals of the NPT".  The French agreed that they could accept this form of words.  

The revelations from the Tel Aviv and Paris meetings will be a disappointment to those who had hoped that the USA and its P5 colleagues are slowly adopting a more progressive line on nuclear arms control issues, revealing that the US still wants to maintain tight control over the international arms control agenda and appears intent on adopting a cautious agenda which will not allow changes to the status quo.

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