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.
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