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The Iran factor

Iranian leaders have long complained about being subjected to a double standard that allows non-NPT members India and Pakistan, as well as Israel, to maintain and even increase their nuclear arsenals but sanctions Tehran, an NPT member, for not cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

On Monday, Iranian Deputy Foreign MinisterMohammad Ali Hosseini told a U.N. meeting preparing for a major review of the NPT next year that nuclear cooperation by the U.S., France and Britain with Israel is “in total disregard with the obligations under the treaty and commitments undertaken in 1995 and 2000, and a source of real concern for the international community, especially the parties to the treaty in the Middle East.”

The Obama administration is seeking talks with Iran on its nuclear program and has dropped a precondition for negotiations that Iran first suspend its uranium enrichment program.

“What the Israelis sense, rightly, is that Obama wants to do something new on Iran and this may very well involve doing something new about Israel’s program,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington think tank.

Bruce Riedel, a former senior director for the Middle East and South Asia on the White House National Security Council, said, “If you’re really serious about a deal with Iran, Israel has to come out of the closet. A policy based on fiction and double standards is bound to fail sooner or later. What’s remarkable is that it’s lasted so long.” Mr. Riedel headed the Obama administration’s review of strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan but does not hold a permanent administration position and has returned to private life as a scholar at the Brookings Institution.

The open secret

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for the George W. Bush administration, said that administration resisted international efforts to pressure Israel on the nuclear front.

“We did not want to accept any operational language that would put Israel at a disadvantage and raise the question of whether Israel was a nuclear power,” he said. “That was not a discussion that we thought was helpful. We allowed very general statements about the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East as long that language was hortatory.”

Israel began its nuclear program shortly after the state was founded in 1948 and produced its first weapons, according to Mr. Cohen’s book, on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli defense doctrine considers the nuclear arsenal to be a strategic deterrent against extinction. But its nuclear monopoly is increasingly jeopardized by Iranian advances and the possibility that Iran’s program could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.

Israel’s arsenal has also been an open secret for decades, despite the fact that Israeli law forbids Israeli journalists from referring to the state’s nuclear weapons unless they quote non-Israeli sources.

In 1986, the Israeli nuclear scientist, Mordecai Vanunu disclosed in the Sunday Times of London photographs and the first insider account of Dimona, the location of Israels primary nuclear facility. Israel responded by convicting him of treason. He was released in 2004 after spending 18 years in prison but has continued to talk about the program on occasion. The government has barred Mr. Vanunu from leaving Israel.

‘Nuclear-free’ zone

References to a “nuclear-free Middle East,” meanwhile, have cropped up increasingly in international resolutions and conferences. For example, the 1991 U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which sanctioned Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, noted “the objective of achieving balanced and comprehensive control of armaments in the region.” More recently, a March 2006 IAEA resolution, in referring Iran to the Security Council, noted “that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.”

U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia also have pressed the U.S. to link Israel’s weapons to Iran’s as part of a plan to implement a nuclear-free Middle East.

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