Egypt Rejects Speculation Over Nukes
CAIRO, Egypt − Egypt denied it has a secret nuclear weapons program in an angry response Sunday to reports that the U.N. atomic watchdog is investigating the discovery of plutonium particles near an Egyptian nuclear facility.
Diplomats in Austria said Friday that the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency is trying to determine if the plutonium particles are evidence of an Egyptian weapons program or simply the byproduct of peaceful research.
"Following newspaper and news agency reports about alleged Egyptian nuclear activity, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Electricity and Energy announce that these reports have no basis of truth," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that was faxed to The Associated Press.
Egypt joined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1981, signed a set of comprehensive guarantees with the IAEA a year later and has opened all its nuclear activities to supervision by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Egypt is well-known for "its strict and full adherence to all its obligations to the conditions of the international agreements and charters."
"Egypt is the country which has called to keep the Middle East region free from all weapons of mass destruction," he added.
European laboratories are analyzing the Egyptian samples, which could be from a cracked research reactor fuel element or could have other, nonmilitary origins, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Egyptian officials said the IAEA last inspected Egyptian nuclear facilities in October.
Egypt runs small-scale nuclear programs for medical and research purposes. Plans were floated as recently as 2002 to build the country's first nuclear power reactor. But no construction date has been announced. The pro-government Al-Ahram Weekly recently reported that the plant site near the coastal town of Al-Dabaa might be sold to make way for tourism development.
Egypt in recent years has criticized the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, mainly due to concerns over neighboring Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal and more recent fears about Iran's nuclear agenda.
Egypt's presidential spokesman hinted that the speculation surrounding the country's nuclear program was directed against the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, who is Egyptian.
"What has been reported by some foreign media was merely an attempt to pressure some international employees with the aim not to renew their assignment," the spokesman, Maged Abdel Fattah, told reporters.
U.S. officials recently accused ElBaradei of trying to sabotage President Bush's re-election by what they claimed were IAEA leaks about the looting of hundreds of tons of high explosives in Iraq. ElBaradei's office denied any involvement in the revelations.
ElBaradei last week also criticized the Bush administration's handling of nuclear weapons issues, saying it pursued a "good guys versus bad guys" approach that encouraged proliferation.
But a day later, ElBaradei told AP the IAEA had a "close relationship with the Bush administration to curb proliferation and nuclear terrorism. But we do sometimes have differences of views on how to go about it."
Egypt appeared to turn away from pursuing a nuclear weapons program decades ago. The Soviet Union and China reportedly rebuffed Cairo's requests for nuclear arms in the 1960s, and by the 1970s, Egypt gave up the idea of building a plutonium production reactor and reprocessing plant.
Source: Associated Press