Sarkozy Pushes Nuclear Energy in Mideast

France's Sarkozy has signed deals with several Mideast nations.
France's Sarkozy has signed deals with several Mideast nations. (Michel Euler - AP)
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By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 20, 2008

PARIS, Jan. 19 -- For French President Nicolas Sarkozy, nuclear reactors are the bridge between the West and the Islamic world.

Currently the world's most aggressive salesman for nuclear power, Sarkozy has visited multiple Muslim states in the last six weeks -- including the globe's biggest oil producers -- to peddle French nuclear technology or make multibillion-dollar deals.

"Why should Arab countries be deprived of the energy of the future?" Sarkozy asked in an interview with al-Jazeera TV during a Middle East tour this past week. "Terrorism flourishes in the embrace of despair and backwardness. We want to help Arab countries develop, and we want to upgrade the economies of the 21st century."

Since December, Sarkozy has signed deals with or offered nuclear technical advice to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Libya, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco.

He is attempting to promote a global revival of the nuclear industry at a time of record-breaking energy prices and strong international concern over global warming. Nuclear technology does not contribute directly to global warming because it does not burn fuel or emit greenhouse gases.

Sarkozy also describes the contracts as a way to boost the French economy and burnish his country's flagging technological and diplomatic image abroad. The companies that develop and build the nuclear power plants are owned primarily by the French government.

France has long been a world leader in nuclear power, currently relying on it for 80 percent of electricity needs. But the "for sale" sign that Sarkozy has hung on French nuclear technology has alarmed critics who say nuclear proliferation could make an already volatile Middle East more dangerous.

"The countries where France is planning to build new plants are mostly nondemocratic regimes or dictatorships," said St¿phane Lhomme, spokesman for Exit Nuclear Network, a French-based umbrella group of anti-nuclear associations. "The main concern is not that an Islamic country ends up with the atomic bomb; the main risk is the possibility of making dirty bombs with nuclear material."

U.A.E. Foreign Affairs Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan responded to similar criticism this past week after the emirates signed a deal with France to build two third-generation nuclear reactors.

"The U.A.E. is conducting wide consultations to create a responsible framework for the evaluation and possible implementation of a peaceful nuclear program, ensuring compliance with the highest standards of nonproliferation, safety and security," he said.

France's agreement to sell nuclear technology to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi has proved the most controversial of the deals. "The risk of proliferation goes up with every country that uses nuclear energy," Gernot Erler, Germany's energy minister, said after news of the arrangement with Libya.

Sarkozy has countered that the Libyan leader's decision in 2003 to halt his country's weapons programs and terrorist activity deserved to be rewarded and that the agreement could be an inducement to rogue countries to follow suit.

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