Monday, February 9, 2009

Helen's Question

"Do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?"

The second of Helen Thomas's questions to President Obama was clearly leading: she wasn't asking about Iran's prospective nukes, but more to the point, about Israel's possession of nukes.

His answer was intriguing:

"I don't want to speculate..." - In other words, everyone has known for years that Israel is in the nuclear club, but it remains officially unrecognized and undiplomatic to discuss. He continues:
"If we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everybody will be in danger..." He then says he wants to prevent nuclear proliferation "generally," which would suggest, for everyone, and states his desire that the United States, "in concert with Russia," will lead the way in reducing nuclear weapons and thus give us the "standing" from which to persuade others to honor non-proliferation treaties.

He then cuts Helen off when she tries to re-ask the question, which of course he skirted. But his answer was perhaps more radical than a direct answer would have been. A nuclear arms race is underway in the Middle East: Israel has them, Iran is trying to get them; in the past Iraq, Libya and perhaps Syria have pursued them. Even if Iran stands down for now, surely in the future other countries will try to get them, so long as Israel has nukes. So the strategy of setting an example with Russia has one ultimate aim (among others) of getting Israel to give up its nukes, leaving other nations in the region with little reason to pursue them.

For backround:

Why has Israel refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

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