Egypt-Russia Reactor Deal Raises Proliferation Fears in Wake of Iranian Advancement

With an eye on the Iranian regime, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey could look to build their own nuclear programs, raising concerns that the failure to halt Iran’s nuclear program could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. This week Egypt and Russia announced a plan to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant with four reactors. Egypt’s move to acquire a domestic nuclear program underscores the position of some analysts that Iran’s program has already sparked such a race. Last July, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that giving Iran “any enrichment will trigger an arms race in the Middle East.”

In November 2013, the P5+1 global powers negotiated the Joint Plan of Action (.pdf) with Iran, which explicitly allows Iran to enrich uranium up to five percent. In response to Iran’s nuclear program, states in the region have threatened to acquire programs of their own in the interim. In 2009, the late Saudi King Abdullah reportedly told Ambassador Dennis Ross that “if they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.” The Daily Beast reported a conversation between Senator Lindsey Graham (R – S.C.) and former intelligence chief Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal. Graham asked the Prince, “If any final agreement that allowed Iran to maintain an enrichment capability would cause Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to invoke their own right to enrich uranium.” He responded, “I think we should insist on having equal rights for everybody, this is part of the (Non-Proliferation Treaty) arrangement.”

Turkey, a rival that competes with Iran for influence in the Middle East, may also seek to acquire nuclear weapons. In January 2014, Turkey and Japan signed a nuclear agreement that included a clause that allows Turkey to enrich uranium and extract plutonium, raising concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation.  A 2012 paper (.pdf) by Amos Yadlin and Avner Golov related that that in 2009, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official claimed that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Turkey would do the same.

Even without an explicit declaration that they will acquire nuclear arms if Iran does, other nations may be looking to match Iran’s nuclear abilities. To gain access to U.S nuclear technology and equipment for its nuclear facilities, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed not to enrich uranium. However, an agreement with Iran may lead the UAE to demand to renegotiate or abandon this agreement. Furthermore, last December Russia and Jordan signed an agreement to build the first nuclear power plant in Jordan.

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