Iran could trigger nuke race in Mideast, Beckett warns

British Secretary of State urges nuclear nations to recommit to nuclear disarmament.

margaret beckett 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
margaret beckett 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
British Secretary of State Margaret Beckett has warned that Iran's quest for nuclear weapons threatens to trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Iran's presumed effort to acquire nuclear weapons, something which "very few in the region or outside it seriously doubt is the goal," raises, she said, "the specter of a huge push for proliferation in what is already one of the most unstable parts of the world." Beckett, the keynote speaker at the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference in Washington on Monday, used her speech to push nuclear nations to recommit to nuclear disarmament. At the same time, she said that when it comes to Iran and North Korea, "I do not believe for one second that further reductions in our nuclear weapons would have a material effect on their nuclear ambitions." She did argue, though, that moderate nonnuclear states want those with nukes to do more on disarmament. "If we do not, we risk helping Iran and North Korea in their efforts to muddy the water, to turn the blame for their own nuclear intransigence back on us." "They can undermine our arguments for strong international action in support of the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] by painting us as doing too little, too late to fulfill our own obligations," she continued. Beckett said the "need to appear consistent" was especially important in the Middle East, where the international community's backing for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone "has been vital in building regional support for a tough line against Iran." Israel, which has never officially admitted having nuclear weapons and never signed the NPT, is the only county in the Middle East currently perceived to have a nuclear capability. Beckett pointed out in her speech that the US and Russia hold 96 percent of the world's arsenal, numbered at more than 20,000 warheads. Earlier in the conference, at a panel on Iran, an audience member suggested that Teheran was seeking a nuclear weapon out of a desire for security in the face of nuclear-armed enemies. But one of the speakers, Bruno Tertrais of the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique, said that Iran's strategic threats had been greatly reduced with the US removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. "I don't think Iran's interested in having nuclear weapons because other countries in the region have nuclear weapons," he said. "I don't think Iran's nuclear program is dominated by security, but by politics and prestige."