- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

The International Atomic Energy Agency has sent investigators to Egypt to inspect a laboratory that was designed to reprocess plutonium, after learning that Cairo had failed to inform it of the existence of the facility. International inspectors are also said to have found, among other things, evidence that Egypt attempted to produce various components of uranium without declaring them to the IAEA, as it is required to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Egypt signed in 1981. Some of the work may have been performed as recently as one year ago.

To be fair, the evidence that has come out thus far is hardly conclusive. But based on Egypt’s record, there is ample reason to be wary. For the better part of two decades, Egypt has collaborated extensively with the North Korean military on various projects, including the development of ballistic missiles. There have been numerous reports that A.Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist involved in a black-market nuclear-weapons network that included Iran, Pakistan, Libya and North Korea, took business trips to Egypt, either to buy or sell nuclear-related items. From 1987 to 1990, Egyptian experts were in Iraq working on the development of a 600-mile-range missile called the Condor II.

Egypt has been quite open in defending the right of Arab nations to develop weapons of mass destruction in order to counteract Israel’s presumed nuclear deterrent (an odd formulation indeed, given the fact that the Arabs have been the ones starting the wars). At a 1989 Chemical Weapons Conference in Paris, for example, Egypt said these weapons were necessary to counterbalance Israeli nukes. In October 1998, President Hosni Mubarak said that Egypt reserved the right to acquire nuclear weapons.

At the same time, despite Egypt’s dubious proliferation-related activities, Washington has powerful reasons for maintaining a good relationship with Cairo. Since 1975, Egypt has received approximately $50 billion in assistance from the United States. Since it became the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, there has been broad, bipartisan support in Washington for the view that supporting Egypt has been critical to stability in the Middle East. At one level, support for Mr. Mubarak contradicts President Bush’s powerfully stated position that democracy is superior to authoritarianism. But in Egypt, as in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the major alternatives to the ruling autocrats at present appear to be Islamists of the bin Laden type. The imperative of fighting the war on terror (not hypocrisy or mean-spiritedness, as some critics suggest) will likely persuade the president to tread very carefully in dealing with Mr. Mubarak and his nuclear aspirations.

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