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Egypt Won't Favor Renewal of Nuclear Disarmament Treaty

By Julia Preston
The Washington Post

Egypt announced Thursday that it will not support indefinite extension of a treaty aimed at curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, putting it at odds with the United States.

In an emotional speech at the United Nations conference that is considering renewal of the 25-year-old nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said it "has not lived up to the expectations of its original forefathers."

He said Israel's failure to adhere to the agreement meant the treaty is "incapable of safeguarding Egypt" and has created "an extremely dangerous situation" in the Middle East.

The Clinton administration has been lobbying vigorously for a year to have the treaty renewed in perpetuity and not limited to a fixed time period. The administration sent a delegation of 47 officials to New York to press the American position. U.S. officials believe that at the start of the conference, which lasts until May 12, a majority of the 170 signatories backed the U.S. position, but they are uncertain about the outcome of the negotiations.

The treaty recognizes five nuclear powers-the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China-and all other signatories pledge to give up the possibility of possessing nuclear arms. In exchange, the five powers commit themselves to work "in good faith" toward total nuclear disarmament.

To the dismay of U.S. negotiators, Moussa said Egypt will try to forge opposition to the U.S. position at a meeting next week in Indonesia of the foreign ministers of the nonaligned nations. Egypt is looking favorably on a proposal made Wednesday by Syria to suspend the conference for a "reasonable period" to pressure Israel to accept international nuclear safeguards.

The provisions of the treaty allow for the deliberations to be suspended, with the treaty remaining in force, if a majority of the signatories cannot reach agreement on how long to extend it. This approach is strongly rejected by the Clinton administration.

Egypt's criticisms of the treaty were well known to U.S. officials. But they said President Clinton had reached an understanding with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Egypt would not be a leader in the battle against the U.S. position.

Egypt's annual aid package from the United States totals $2.1 billion, an amount that is vital to its economy at a time when Mubarak is fighting an insurgency by Muslim radicals. Egypt also has been a key ally of the United States in Middle East peace negotiations, leading some U.S. officials to predict that Cairo might soften its stance on the nuclear treaty at the last minute.

Many nonnuclear states have complained that the five nuclear signatories have not done enough to disarm their nuclear arsenals during the past quarter-century and are reluctant to give up the leverage that a limited extension of the treaty would provide.

Moussa echoed these criticisms and also chastised the nuclear states for failing to transfer more peaceful nuclear technology to the developing world, as foreseen under the treaty. He also sharply criticized a recent Security Council resolution, as well formal declarations by the nuclear powers, reassuring the non-nuclear nations they would not be attacked and would be defended if they came under nuclear threat. Moussa said those measures were "fraught with conditions and reservations," and did not satisfy Egypt's security needs.