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Analysts: Arab World Wary of Iran's Nuclear Power Plant Plans - 2002-12-25

Political analysts in the Arab world are reacting with concern to Iran's plans to complete construction of a nuclear power plant.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Iran's nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes. But that assurance has not completely eased concern among analysts in the region.

The head of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Abdel Moneim Said, said talk of nuclear power in the Middle East, makes countries such as Egypt worry about the balance of military power.

"It is sensitive in many areas. One is political, for sure. But it is also sensitive in terms of national security for a country like Egypt who opted to get out of the nuclear business completely, voluntarily, since 1982. And, choosing that path, they are very sensitive to the moves by other countries in that direction because, in terms of balance of power, will endanger our national security," said Mr. Said.

Mr. Said said Egypt wants a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, including Iran.

The nuclear issue was getting attention in the region Wednesday after the Iranian president said Tuesday his country is determined to pursue its nuclear program in spite of regional and U.S. concerns. Speaking during a three day trip to Pakistan, President Khatami said Iran's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

He also said he would not be opposed to shipping nuclear power plant waste material to countries such as Russia, if it would help ease concerns about Iran's plans to finish construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Nuclear waste can be reprocessed into plutonium, which is the key ingredient for nuclear bombs.

The United States has opposed efforts by Iran to develop nuclear energy and, has complained to Moscow about Russia's participation in the construction of the Bushehr plant.