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A Nuclear Middle East

Samara Greenberg

As six world powers prepared Sunday night to engage Iran in nuclear talks in Geneva for the first time in over one year, Iranian atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced that the country has produced its first batch of uranium yellowcake, the raw material for enrichment, making Iran “self-sufficient” in the entire nuclear fuel cycle and one step closer to creating an atomic bomb. Needless to say, success is not expected in today’s talks.

Meanwhile, concerns over a Syrian nuclear program are once again on the rise. For over two years, Syria has blocked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from accessing the remains of the al-Kibar site, thought to be a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor, destroyed by Israel in 2007.

The destroyed al-Kibar site

In addition, according to IAEA director general Yukiya Amano, since 2008 Syria has prevented UN nuclear inspectors from visiting numerous suspect sites, including a uranium-extraction plant built with IAEA technical assistance, and has provided the agency with inconsistent information about its atomic activities. Last week, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers called on President Obama to urge the IAEA to conduct special nuclear inspections in Syria.

And further west, President Hosni Mubarak has reportedly warned U.S. officials that Egypt may try to develop nuclear arms if Iran successfully creates an atomic weapon of its own. “We are all terrified” of a possible nuclear Iran, the Egyptian president was quoted as saying in a May 2008 cable recently Wikileaked.

As this unfolds, the Obama administration focuses on its New START treaty with Russia that would decrease the United States’ stockpile of nuclear warheads and, with it, Washington’s ability to deal with potentially nuclear-izing countries. At this crucial time, the Obama administration should drop its treaty with Russia and instead focus on creating new ways to confront the real possibility of a nuclear Middle East.