The statements were made by two mid-level State Department Officials in advance of the NPT Review Conference, scheduled to open in New York on May 2. The purpose of the conference is to evaluate implementation of the non-proliferation treaty and determine its future course.
The officials’ comments regarding Israel’s weapons capability were apparently made as a way of putting the issue of Israel’s nukes on the conference’s agenda. The comments appeared to deviate from Bush Administration policy, which is to refrain from using terminology that confirms Israel’s status as a nuclear nation.
The most recent statement came from Jackie Wolcott Sanders, Bush's Special Representative for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In an essay titled “How to Strengthen the NPT,” Sanders mentions Israel, along with India and Pakistan, within the context of enforcing “universal NPT adherence.” She noted, however, that this is not likely “in the foreseeable future.”
Sanders wrote, “The Review Conference should reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states. Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states would have to forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities to join the treaty. At the same time, we recognize that progress toward universal adherence is not likely in the foreseeable future."
“The United States continues to support the goals of the Middle East resolution adopted at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference," Sanders added, "including the achievement of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.”
Another statement, using almost identical language, was made by Mark Fitzpatrick, the U.S. acting deputy assistant secretary for nuclear proliferation, at a March 17 meeting of the Organization of American States Committee on Hemispheric Security in Washington, D.C.
Fitzpatrick said, “The Conference should also reinforce the goal of universal NPT adherence and reaffirm that India, Israel and Pakistan may join the NPT only as non-nuclear-weapon states. Just as South Africa and Ukraine did in the early 1990s, these states should forswear nuclear weapons and accept IAEA safeguards on all nuclear activities.”
Fitzpatrick’s comments regarding Israel were made just after proclaiming, “Iran and North Korea must not be permitted to violate the NPT without consequences.”
The statements of the two officials contrast with President Bush’s own reference to the NPT in a speech he made on March 7, when he called for enforcing the treaty’s provisions on NPT members, which conveniently include both Iran and North Korea. Bush did not refer to his policy regarding non-member states, which include Israel, Pakistan, and India.
The U.S. State Department has often taken pro-Arab positions in the Arab-Israeli dispute over the years, and has been wary of increasing Israeli power in the Middle East.
The State Department’s positions occasionally blatantly contradict those of the president. For example, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice recently declared in two separate newspaper interviews that President Bush did not make any guarantees to Israel regarding Israel’s right to retain certain settlement blocs as part of a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.
The president purported to make such promises to Israel in a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last spring, but interpretations of the letter have been varied and the subject of much controversy - some of it spurred on by State Department officials.