Egypt is refusing to sign treaties prohibiting biological and chemical weapons, a week after it was reported that weapons-grade uranium was found in Egypt.
The news, released in remarks by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul-Gheit to the Egyptian weekly Ruz Al-Yousuf, could lend credence to speculation that Egypt is seeking weapons of mass destruction.
Though Egypt is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Aboul-Gheit's comments are likely to add to fears that Egypt's fledgling nuclear program is being planned for military purposes.
The International Atomic Energy Agency revealed in a report last week that traces of weapons-grade uranium were found in Egypt last year and in 2007, and that this was being investigated.
Egypt's Atomic Energy Authority said the substance was innocent and originated from trucks carrying residue of uranium for medical purposes.
Aboul-Gheit said joining the international treaties against chemical and biological weapons was conditioned on Israel signing both these agreements and the NPT.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the implementing agency for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which bans the development, production and use of chemical weapons, said Egypt, Israel and Syria were the only countries in the Middle East and North Africa that had not signed the CWC.
"The OPCW has long understood that the issue of the CWC is entwined with larger political and security-related issues in the region," OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told The Media Line.
"We continue to be encouraged by the fact that both Israel and Egypt do engage with us on an unofficial basis, that both countries occasionally participate in CWC events as observers and we continue to maintain hope that both countries, as well as Syria, will detach the issue of joining the CWC from the issue of other treaties and arrangements," Luhan said.
"We suggest that joining the convention would demonstrate good will and increased trust in the region."
As to other treaties, Israel refuses to sign the NPT and maintains its policy of deliberate ambiguity, neither confirming nor denying the possession of nuclear weapons. Arms experts believe Israel has between 100 and 200 atomic weapons, but this has never been confirmed by Israel.
Under the NPT, five world powers are allowed to possess nuclear weapons - the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China. Other signatories are obliged not to own nuclear weapons, and states that do possess nuclear weapons must disarm.
India and Pakistan have never signed the treaty and have each publicly acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons. North Korea withdrew from the pact in 2003 and tested a nuclear device in 2006.
Similar to several other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Egypt has over the past few years renewed its interest in seeking a nuclear program, which it claims is for the peaceful purposes of creating energy.
However, analysts are saying that the surge of interest in peaceful nuclear energy throughout the MENA region by countries like Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, is most likely a reaction to Iran's controversial nuclear program and an aversion to the idea of Iran being a nuclear-armed Shi'ite power in the mostly Sunni Middle East.
Aboul-Gheit announced on Tuesday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would be heading to Washington on May 26 at the invitation of US President Barack Obama. This will be Mubarak's first trip to Washington in five years. Egypt is an ally of the US and receives more than $1.5 billion in aid from Washington annually.
Also, Obama has chosen Egypt as a venue from which to deliver a major address to the Muslim world next month.
The trip is scheduled as the Obama administration is seeking to reexamine the Arab Initiative, which outlines a plan to make peace between Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds in exchange for Israel withdrawing from the Palestinian territories, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
In an interview with an Israeli television network on Tuesday, Mubarak rejected recent suggestions that terms considered by Israel to be deal-breakers be altered to make the plan workable. He said the Arab Initiative peace plan must remain as it was presented.
Mubarak reiterated the hard-line position of the Arab League, sponsors of the plan, which has said the proposal must be accepted in its entirety, with no alterations, modifications or amendments.
The Obama administration has sought changes to make the plan more acceptable to Israel.