With Egypt in turmoil and the Hosni Mubarak regime imperiled, concerns are rising over the Arab world’s most militarily advanced nation’s weapons of mass destruction programs, said to include work with nuclear, chemical and biological technologies.
Documents obtained by NBC News from the United States, Russia and Israel reportedly disclose that Egypt has conducted research on uranium and plutonium processing, helped Saddam Hussein’s Iraq develop its deadly chemical weapons arsenal, and aided North Korea’s missile programs.
The research and development has been ongoing for more than three decades, according to the documents and interviews with American officials.
The United States has not taken action to discourage the work due to America’s close relationship with the Egyptian military. But all that could change if Mubarak is ousted and that relationship deteriorates.
If an Islamist regime replaces the Mubarak government, “then all bets are off” as far as Egypt’s pursuit of WMDs, according to James Russell, a former Pentagon official now with the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, Calif.
Egypt has already hinted that it could withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if nothing is done about Israel and Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, according to NBC News. In that case, Egypt would be under no restraints in developing nuclear technology for weapons.
Egypt’s plutonium research appears to have taken place at least 20 years ago. But its uranium experiments conducted at it two research reactors in the Nile Delta are more recent, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency report.
One fear is that if a new Egyptian regime lost part or all of its American military aid, it could seek to make up for the loss by exporting weapons technology.
According to a 2005 CIA report cited by NBC, after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in 1981, Iraq paid Egypt for assistance in producing sarin munitions. The nerve gas was used to deadly affect by the Iraqis against Kurdish dissidents and Iranian troops.
In the mid-1980s, Egypt secretly aided North Korea’s missile program by shipping at least two of its Soviet-supplied Scud missiles to North Korea for reverse engineering.
“It is this backdrop, and the fact that Egypt still has considerable expertise in missiles and chemical weapons,” NBC concludes, “that has some analysts concerned about the path that a new Egyptian government might take.”
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