U.S. would ban atom arms production for Israel, chemical weapons for Arabs

May 14, 1991|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration has prepared an arms control plan that would ban Israel from producing material for nuclear weapons and would require Arab nations in the Middle East to give up their chemical weapons, administration officials said yesterday.

President Bush hopes to announce the plan, which is certain to cause problems with the Israeli government, in a coming speech.

The announcement has been delayed pending the return of Secretary of State James A. Baker III from a peace mission in the Middle East.

Administration officials said the plan was an effort to devise an arms-control formula for the Middle East and was not aimed solely at Israel, the only nation in the region that is understood to have nuclear weapons.

The plan would also prevent Arab nations that do not have nuclear weapons from making them and would remove their capability to attack Israel with chemical weapons.

All Middle East nations would also be required to give up ballistic missiles with a range of more than 90 miles.

Administration officials said that the long-term goal was to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, from the Middle East.

But U.S. officials said that, as a practical matter, Israel could not be expected to give up its existing nuclear arsenal until a durable peace is established in the region.

The Israelis have resisted calls for giving up any nuclear force on the ground that they need a deterrent against larger Arab armies.

In addition to promoting stability in the region, administration officials said, the Middle East arms-control initiative is intended to bolster the peace efforts undertaken since the end of the Persian Gulf war.

Arab nations have previously said that they would be unwilling to give up their chemical weapons as long as Israel has nuclear weapons.

The administration plan for countries in the region to stop producing material for nuclear arms is partly intended to meet that concern, though Israel would still retain a small but potent arsenal of nuclear weapons if it stopped production.

Israel has a military reactor at Dimona that is not subject to international safeguards.

Although Israel is the only nation in the Middle East that is believed to have nuclear weapons, the plan would apply to Arab nations that seek to develop a nuclear arsenal.

Though the administration's goal for arms control in the Middle East are ambitious, officials said that the initial steps could be gradual.

Administration officials familiar with the plan said it involved these elements:

* Arab nations, along with other nations, would agree to join a treaty requiring the elimination of stockpiles of chemical weapons over a 10-year period. As a first step, Middle East nations could allow inspections to establish procedures for verification before the treaty is completed and takes effect.

* Israel would stop producing material for nuclear weapons and would agree to safeguards at its military reactor at Dimona, in a possible first step toward declaring the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons.

* Ballistic missiles with a range of more than 90 miles would be banned. If nations did not want to prohibit all missiles of this type, an administration official said, more modest constraints could be worked out that would ban the testing and deployment of new types of ballistic missiles.

* In addition to the constraints on Middle East nations, the administration plan calls for the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to notify each other of conventional arms sales to the region.

If a Middle East peace conference is held, a subcommittee could be established to take up arms control, administration officials suggested.

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