US and United Arab Emirates sign nuclear power agreement

Publish date: January 18, 2009

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) took a major step today, with the help of the United States, towards becoming the first Arab country to acquire a nuclear capability in a move that could prompt other states to seek to join the nuclear club, altering the balance of the power in the region, news agencies reported.

The UAE says it is seeking a nuclear programme for the generation of energy, not to produce an atomic weapon. But other Arab countries, if they build reactors, might be more likely to make the switch from civilian to military nuclear use.

The UAE embassy in Washington confirmed to the Guardian that out-going US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, signed a nuclear cooperation pact with her UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdallah Bin Zayid Al Nahyan, at a ceremony at the state department.

The pact had been repeatedly delayed because of protests by members of US Congress that it could be a dangerous acceleration of nuclear proliferation, adding to the volatility in the region. The nuclear pact is one of the last acts of the Bush Administration – which leaves office Tuesday – taken in strong defiance of Congress.

The deal will go to Barack Obama to sign off on. His team has not yet expressed a view on it.

Arab countries having reactors within the next decade would mean stockpiles of nuclear material accumulating in the region. One estimate is there would be enough to build between 1,000 and 2,000 nuclear bombs, the Guardian said.

Israel is the only state in the Middle East with a nuclear weapons capability, though it publicly refuses to confirm this. Iran is suspected by the US, Britain and other countries of also seeking a nuclear weapons capability, though it claims it is only interested in developing nuclear power to meet its energy needs.