Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will send a deputy to Obama's nuclear security summit next week. He decided not to attend himself after learning that some Arab countries planned to press Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Middle East was always going to be a focus of any international gathering on nuclear security.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute decision to skip President Obama’s nuclear security summit in Washington next week has served to highlight instabilities in the Middle East – and the reasons the prospect of a “nuclear race” in the region is so worrisome to US officials.
Mr. Netanyahu reversed his decision to appear at the summit, to be attended by 50 world leaders Monday and Tuesday, on concerns that Muslim countries at the gathering would publicly call for Israel to give up its assumed nuclear arsenal and thus make way for a truly nuclear-free Middle East. Netanyahu decided to send a deputy and several senior officials in his place “after learning that some countries including Egypt and Turkey plan to say Israel must sign the NPT,” an Israeli official said Friday, referring to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that Israel has never signed.
International nuclear experts believe Israel to have about 200 nuclear warheads, but no Israeli leader has ever acknowledged the arsenal’s existence. Signing the NPT would require Israel to open up to international nuclear energy inspectors – and thus to a presumed loss of the country's “nuclear ambiguity.”
The Obama administration persuaded Netanyahu to attend the summit after assuring him that Israel’s nuclear status would not arise at a gathering where the focus was on “loose nukes” and keeping nuclear materials out of extremists’ hands, officials say. The administration saw positive aspects of a high-level Israeli presence at an international gathering on issues that Israel has been criticized for steering clear of in the past, they add.