iran nuclear cameras 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
France is acting to provide several Arab countries with peaceful nuclear programs, in order to wean the region off oil and boost Franco-Arab relations, a senior French Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
France has forged a nuclear cooperation deal with Libya and has discussed the possibility with Algeria and the United Arab Emirates.
The French have made sure that the programs would be only for "peaceful civil programs," the official said - mainly to supply drinking water by desalination.
"To move away from dependency on oil, an alternative must be introduced. That alternative is a civilian nuclear program," the French Foreign Ministry official said. "The position of the French government is clear - that we are in favor of a civilian nuclear buildup, but in a controlled framework."
French policy was also based on a "reward system" that would encourage other countries to abandon undesirable policies, the official said. "It is a message, that says loud and clear: 'Bring your attitudes and practices in line with the rest of the world, and you will be rewarded.'"
The best example of this, according to the official, is Libya. "They were in a bad situation in 2003 and were forced to abandon their program. Now they have turned the page and are willing to abide by the guidelines of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which they have signed."
The nuclear technology will be supplied by the French manufacturer Areva, which manufactures state-of-the-art EPR (European pressurized water reactor) desalination plants. "The foreign governments work with the private sector in France, which then works with the president. We are not involved with the process," a French Defense Ministry official said.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy has gone on record as saying that Arab countries must be "trusted" with nuclear technology, and that denying it to them could result in a "clash of civilizations."
Sarkozy also says denying North African countries such technology would stunt their development and jeopardize their ability to fight "terrorism and fanaticism."
"Look at Iran," the French Foreign Ministry official said. "Iran cannot give us or the rest of the world guarantees that its program is solely for peaceful purposes. It is a question of confidence. If Iran would comply with the IAEA's and the UN's [requirements], then [UN Security Council] Resolutions 1737 and 1747 would be lifted. If they would then cooperate with the IAEA and abide by the NPT, well, then maybe one day we could even dream about Iran having the technology."
The nuclear assistance also has a great deal to do with France's desire for increased influence in the region.
"It is a new time for Franco-Arab relations, which are far stronger and much more intense than in the past," Francois Zimeray, a former member of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense committees, told the Post. "We are no longer dependent on Arab resources. The base of our relations is very different. Then, we were the buyers; now, we are the sellers."
Because France produces the world's most advanced civilian nuclear products, Zimeray said, its exports allow France to garner regional influence, which is "very important and strategic," to counterbalance the Chinese and Russian presence in Asia and Africa.
"If these countries want to go nuclear, better they go to France than to China and Russia. France is also a better friend to Israel ... President Sarkozy is very concerned for the security of Israel and would make sure that security guarantees are provided so that the programs could not be transformed from civilian to military [uses]," Zimeray said.
In December, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose members are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE, announced a joint project for peaceful nuclear energy. Jordan and Egypt have expressed a desire to go nuclear as well, in hopes of conserving their natural gas and oil reserves.
Most recently, Yemen also jumped on to the nuclear bandwagon. Its minister of environment, Mustafa Yehya, announced this week that "specialized international firms" would build a nuclear reactor to produce electricity.
"While there is a potential risk involved," Zimeray said, "there is a fundamental imperative to get these countries off oil. Supplying these countries with a [nuclear] program is not a bad thing from an environmental standpoint, especially in a world where we face a serious global warming threat. But you must also understand, these countries are building cities, not bombs."
An Israeli government spokesman said that while France was holding discussions about this issue with Algeria and the UAE, they were very much in the preliminary stages and years away from fruition. The official also said it was unclear whether these countries had the ability to operate and maintain nuclear plants.
France agreed to supply Libya with a nuclear power station as part of the deal last month to release five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor from Libyan captivity, sparking outrage in France and leading to the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry on the matter.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.