Bloomberg: The Obama administration should consider countering an Iranian threat by offering Middle East allies protection under a “nuclear umbrella,” a United Arab Emirates official said, as the U.S. announced plans to join international talks with Iran.
By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
April 9 (Bloomberg) — The Obama administration should consider countering an Iranian threat by offering Middle East allies protection under a “nuclear umbrella,” a United Arab Emirates official said, as the U.S. announced plans to join international talks with Iran.
The official referred to a similar proposal by then-Senator Hillary Clinton during an April 2008 presidential campaign debate with then-Senator Barack Obama. Such a security guarantee would assuage widespread fears about Iran’s nuclear program among its neighbors, the U.A.E. official said yesterday in Washington.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the notion that the U.S. would threaten to retaliate with nuclear weapons should its Persian Gulf allies come under attack would have a powerful deterrent effect on an Iranian weapons program.
Expanding the military guarantee to the Middle East would mark a foreign policy shift with wide consequences in an area central to world energy markets. The U.S. currently extends the protection of its nuclear arms to its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the U.S. nuclear umbrella has prevented proliferation and deterred conflict,” said William Tobey, former deputy administrator at the National Nuclear Security Administration under former President George W. Bush’s administration.
“Decisions on including additional countries under extended deterrence need to be taken with great care,” said Tobey, now a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Another arms-control expert said it would be “premature and counterproductive” to offer nuclear deterrence to Iran’s neighbors.
“It would make many feel that Iran is justified in wanting to continue enriching uranium, because the U.S. would be seen to be threatening Iran with nuclear weapons,” said George Perkovich, director of the nonproliferation program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Iran refuses to comply with United Nations demands that it suspend its enrichment effort and open its nuclear facilities more fully to inspection. The Iranian government says its program is legitimate work toward a nuclear energy industry.
The Obama administration announced yesterday that it plans to join China, Russia and European allies in talks with Iran to block possible development of a nuclear bomb. The step came as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he would welcome “sincerity” in engagement from President Obama.
Clinton, now Obama’s secretary of state, said during the April debate last year that Israel and Arab allies should be given “deterrent backing” by the U.S. and that “Iran must know that an attack on Israel will draw a massive response.”
The umbrella should be extended beyond Israel to other Middle East allies if they agree to give up nuclear weapon ambitions of their own, she said at the time.
While the Bush administration never extended such a guarantee to Israel or Arab allies, it did deploy an early- warning radar system in the Negev desert, which was meant to improve Israel’s ability to detect Iranian ballistic missiles.
Last month, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy released a report raising the idea of extended deterrence as a possible counter to an Iranian threat. Dennis Ross, a former Washington Institute fellow and now the Obama administration’s special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, signed the report.
Close to Iran
The U.A.E., a major oil producer that sits 50 miles across the Gulf from Iran, is a close ally of the U.S. One of the last acts of Bush’s administration three months ago was to sign an agreement for the U.S. to share technology for the development of the U.A.E.’s nuclear energy industry.
The Obama administration has been supportive of the deal, which is undergoing a review and could be sent to lawmakers for approval after the April congressional recess, according to the U.A.E. official.
Officials at the National Security Council and State Department declined to comment on the nuclear umbrella idea.
Proponents of the nuclear technology deal praise the U.A.E. for being the first country to pledge not to exercise its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium to make nuclear fuel.
The U.A.E. has committed to buying nuclear fuel from foreign countries and sending back spent supplies.
Iran, which can buy nuclear fuel from Russia or other nuclear suppliers, has insisted on enriching uranium to make its own fuel, raising suspicions that its program may have a hidden use for weapons.