Israeli president denies newspaper report he offered South Africa nuclear warheads in 1975

By Karoun Demirjian, AP
Monday, May 24, 2010

Israel’s Peres denies offering South Africa nukes

JERUSALEM — Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday categorically denied a report that he offered nuclear warheads to South Africa in 1975, when he was defense minister.

The report published Sunday in the British newspaper The Guardian is based on an American academic’s research and claims to cite secret minutes of a meeting Peres held with senior South African officials.

Peres said Israel never negotiated the transfer of nuclear weapons to South Africa.

“There exists no basis in reality for the claims published this morning by The Guardian that in 1975 Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of nuclear weapons,” the president said in an English-language statement. “Unfortunately, The Guardian elected to write its piece based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts.”

The article is based on a series of documents the South African government declassified in response to a request from American academic Sasha Polakow-Suransky, who is writing a book called “The Unspoken Alliance” about the close relationship between the Israel and South Africa.

Appearing alongside the article, the partially censored documents show a formal request from the South Africans for nuclear-capable warheads, and minutes of meetings in which then-Defense Minister Peres listed weapons available for sale.

But they do not appear to confirm any transfer of weapons, or any explicit offer from the Israelis to sell nuclear materials or nuclear-capable weapons to the South Africans.

The documents accompanying the story do show Peres’ signature on minutes from a meeting where the then-defense minister discussed payloads available in “three sizes,” one of several phrases that Peres said The Guardian misconstrued.

In response to the article, the South African government said it has dismantled all its nuclear weapons but did not relate to the 1975 claim.

The British paper did not call the Israeli government for a response to the article, Peres said, adding that his office “intends to send a harsh letter to the editor of The Guardian and demands the publication of the true facts.”

The Guardian claims the documents offer the first documentary evidence of Israel’s nuclear program.

In 1986, another British newspaper, the Sunday Times, published pictures and descriptions from a former technician at Israel’s main nuclear reactor, leading experts to estimate that Israel had the world’s sixth-largest nuclear arsenal.

According to its policy, Israel has never acknowledged or denied possessing nuclear weapons, though it is widely assumed to have them.

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