(photo credit: AP)
Egypt's foreign minister on Monday rebuked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for boasting that his country had turned nuclear, saying such language should be used by only those who have the nuclear bomb.
The rebuke fits with the increasing unease in the Arab world about Iran's influence in Iraq and its potential for stirring up tension between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.
Reacting to the UN Security Council resolution that imposed limited sanctions on Iran for its refusal to cease uranium enrichment, President Ahmadinejad told a gathering in Teheran on Sunday that, whether the world liked it or not, "Iran is a nuclear country."
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit disputed this on Monday, saying in a statement that "the possession by some countries of peaceful nuclear technology, or some of stages of the nuclear cycle, or carrying out some peaceful nuclear activities, does not mean by any means that it can call itself a nuclear state."
"Nuclear states are only those that have military nuclear capabilities," Aboul Gheit added.
Iran has consistently denied that it seeks to build an atomic bomb, saying it aims to produce only electrical power from nuclear sources.
The United States and some allies have accused Iran of using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for acquiring nuclear weapons. Enriched uranium, which Iran insists on producing, can be used as fuel for nuclear reactors or as material for atomic weapons.
Iran's declaring itself a nuclear power undermines Egypt's campaign to get the whole Middle East declared a zone free of nuclear weapons. At the moment Israel is regarded as the one Middle Eastern state with a nuclear arsenal.
Egypt, together with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, has voiced concern about Iran's growing influence in Iraq. Both countries have Shi'ite Muslim majorities. The Shi'ites political success in Iraq - where they now lead the government - is seen as emboldening Shi'ite communities in other parts of the Arab world.