Learn to Trust Arabs With Nukes: Sarkozy
TRIPOLI, 27 July 2007 — After agreeing to nuclear cooperation with Libya, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the West should trust Arab states to develop such technology for peaceful purposes or risk a war of civilizations.
France agreed Wednesday to help Libya develop a nuclear reactor to supply drinking water from desalinated sea water. The reactor might be supplied by French atomic energy firm Areva.
Sarkozy told reporters in Libya that to consider the Arab world “is not sensible enough to use civilian nuclear power” would, in the long run, risk a “war of civilizations.”
“Nuclear power is the energy of the future,” he said. “If we don’t give the energy of the future to the countries of the southern Mediterranean, how will they develop themselves? And if they don’t develop, how will we fight terrorism and fanaticism?”
Many Middle Eastern countries, including some worried about Iran’s nuclear program, are interested in developing atomic energy resources.
Claude Gueant, Sarkozy’s chief of staff, noted the nuclear cooperation deal means “a country that respects international rules can obtain civilian nuclear energy.”
Sarkozy denied any link between the nuclear deal and the release this week of six foreign medics who spent eight years in Libyan jails and were convicted of infecting hundreds of children with HIV.
He helped clinch the deal between Tripoli and the European Union to free the medics, removing a major obstacle hampering reconciliation between Libya and the West. “The only link one can make is that if the nurses had not been released, I would not have come,” he said.
Areva, the world’s biggest maker of nuclear reactors, deals with the full nuclear cycle from mining to waste. Libya said in February it would join Areva in exploring and mining uranium.
Saudi Arabia along with Gulf Cooperation Council partners Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates announced a joint project for peaceful nuclear energy, mainly for water desalination, in December last year.
Egypt, which suspended an earlier nuclear energy program after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, is looking to revive it to meet energy needs and conserve gas and oil reserves.
Libya and France also signed accords for a military-industrial partnership and cooperation in scientific research and higher education on Wednesday.
“I am trying to reassure a part of the Arab world,” said Sarkozy. “There is Libya, but all the other Arab states are looking at the way Libya will be treated following the release of the nurses.”
French green groups attacked the plan as a perilous masquerade that would encourage Muammar Qaddafi to get a nuclear bomb.
Sortir du Nucleaire (Get Out of Nuclear) said the official reason for the reactor was a “deception” as the civilian and military uses of nuclear technology were “indissociable.”
“Delivering civilian nuclear energy to Libya would amount to helping the country, sooner or later, to acquire nuclear weapons,” it said.
Rich in oil and gas, Libya is “very amply self-sufficient in energy,” the group argued. “If it wishes to diversify, it should logically give priority to solar energy: the country enjoys remarkable levels of sunshine all year long.”
Greenpeace France said the deal “poses an enormous problem in terms of nuclear proliferation” and branded it as “in keeping with the French policy of irresponsible export of nuclear technology.” Greenpeace pointed out that previous French presidents had signed nuclear deals with the former shah of Iran, ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and with South Africa during the apartheid era.
But experts said the plan posed no immediate risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. They said Libya was cooperating with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and had given up its nuclear weapons program in late 2003.
Since then “there has been very good cooperation with the IAEA,” a diplomat close to the Vienna-based IAEA said.
Nonproliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) added: “I don’t think there is any proliferation risk, given the fact that Libya is still cooperating with the IAEA (and) the manner it turned over and destroyed equipment.”
“(Libya’s) cooperation with the IAEA and British and American governments has been exemplary,” Fitzpatrick said. “It is important for the rest of the world to see that when a country abandons its nuclear weapons programs and weapons of mass destruction, there are tangible benefits. This cooperation (with France) is a direct result,” he added.