Israel Submits Nuclear Trade Plan

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Israel has pushed a key group of nations engaged in nuclear trade to adopt new guidelines allowing the international transfer of nuclear technology to states that have not signed on to nonproliferation rules, and the move may complicate the Bush administration's efforts to win an exemption for India to engage in such trade.

Documents outlining Israel's proposal were distributed to the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in March and have circulated on Capitol Hill in recent days, just as the administration is pushing to clear the final hurdles blocking a groundbreaking agreement with India.

Countries such as India, Israel and Pakistan that have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are prohibited from participating in international nuclear trade, including buying reactors, uranium fuel or yellowcake.

Israel, which has a small nuclear program, has not confirmed that it has nuclear weapons, saying only that it would not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Estimates of its stockpile range from 75 to 400 weapons.

The Israeli presentation, made in a "nonpaper" that allows for official deniability, was offered in the context of the NSG's debate over India's bid for an exemption, according to a March 17 letter by the NSG's chairman. Among the nations that have not signed the treaty, only India and Israel would qualify for admission to the NSG under the Israeli proposal.

David Siegel, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, said it would be "grossly inaccurate" to suggest that Israel is demanding an exemption or linking its efforts to any other issue, such as the India debate.

"Israel has never asked the NSG for any exemption to its nuclear supply guidelines, nor has Israel made any Israeli-specific request of the NSG," Siegel said. "Israel, recognized to be a full-fledged adherent to the NSG guidelines, has urged the NSG to consider adopting a generic, multi-tiered, criteria-based approach towards nuclear technology transfers." He noted that some NSG countries previously have suggested such an approach.

"Modification of the NSG guidelines, were it to take place along the lines proposed by Israel, would considerably enhance the nuclear nonproliferation regime," Siegel said.

The Israeli plan offers 12 criteria for allowing nuclear trade with non-treaty states, including one that hints at Israel's status as an undeclared nuclear weapons state: A state should be allowed to engage in nuclear trade if it applies "stringent physical protection, control and accountancy measures to all nuclear weapons, nuclear facilities, source material and special nuclear material in its territory."

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, said the Israeli document could affect the debate over India.

"The dynamics at the NSG are that no country wants to stand in the way of the largest country, India, and the most powerful country, the United States," he said. But Kimball said that when the NSG meets in November, consensus on India will be hard to reach. "Israel's proposal gives some countries a reason to suggest" an alternative approach to a specific exemption, he said. Kimball said Israel has a record as good or better than India's in following international nuclear rules.

Delays in winning approval for India would be troubling for President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who view the pact as an important part of their foreign policy legacy. The deal is stirring controversy in India while Congress must still give approval, making delay until an election year potentially fatal.

Reflecting that concern, the Bush administration is rejecting the Israeli proposal. "We view the India deal as unique and don't see it as a precedent for any other country, including Israel," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company