“A lot of this is political and strategic,” said Jon Wolfsthal, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Egypt’s president announced plans Monday to build several nuclear power plants — the latest in a string of ambitious such proposals from moderate Arab countries. The United States immediately welcomed the plan, in a sharp contrast to what it called nuclear “cheating” by Iran.
President Hosni Mubarak said the aim was to diversify Egypt’s energy resources and preserve its oil and gas reserves for future generations. In a televised speech, he pledged Egypt would work with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency at all times and would not seek a nuclear bomb.
But Mubarak also made clear there were strategic reasons for the program, calling secure sources of energy “an integral part of Egypt’s national security system.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. would not object to the program as long as Egypt adhered to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines.
“The problem has arisen, specifically in the case of Iran, where you have a country that has made certain commitments, and in our view and the shared view of many … (is) cheating on those obligations,” he said.
“For those states who want to pursue peaceful nuclear energy … that’s not a problem for us,” McCormack said. “Those are countries that we can work with.”
The United States accuses Iran of using the cover of a peaceful nuclear program to secretly work toward building a bomb, an allegation Iran denies. Iran asserts it has a right to peaceful nuclear power and needs it to meet its economy’s voracious energy needs.