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French Version

'The Middle East is warming up' to nuclear energy

The Rainbow Warrior docked in Beirut on Wednesday for the Greenpeace flagship's second-to-last stop on a regional tour to promote a nuclear-free Middle East. The ship is used around the world to support various campaigns by Greenpeace, an international environmental organization founded in 1971.

The anti-nuclear campaign was launched in the United Arab Emirates on January 18, and is expected to wrap up in Turkey - the next stop after Lebanon - on April 16.

The 16-member crew of the Rainbow Warrior has focused its campaign on Iran and Israel, where the environmental activists promoted a region free of any form of nuclear energy, civil or military. Egypt and Turkey were also main areas of interest.

The decision to focus the campaign on the Middle East, according to regional communications officer Omar al-Naim, was to due a newfound interest in nuclear technology in the region.

"It's funny," Naim told The Daily Star, "while the rest of the world seems to be weaning off its use, the Middle East is warming up" to nuclear energy.

He said that the current wave of regional interest in nuclear energy, stemmed over Itan's program. Despite reassurances from Tehran that its nuclear program is strictly for energy purposes, Naim warned that "plants are easily converted for military purposes."

The Iranian government must have other intentions for its program, he argued, as there are much cheaper and more practical means by which to meet increasing energy demands.

"Not a single reactor is built without subsidies from governments. It is just not cost-effective. Companies don't bother with them. That has to be saying something," Naim said.

At its previous stop, Israel, the only country in the region believed to possess nuclear weapons, the crew of the Rainbow Warrior made the locations of Israel's nuclear facilities public. Israel is not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has never openly admitted to possessing nuclear weapons. Experts, however, estimate that it has at least 200 warheads.

Naim said the crew felt that it had "succeeded, because they were able to open up a dialogue about the issue of nuclear technology in Israel."

Their goal, he added, was to encourage Israel to abandon its policy of "constructive ambiguity" regarding its nuclear program and start working toward a nuclear-free region.

Naim acknowledged that it was difficult to communicate with a "tense public" in Israel about nuclear energy as the immediate reaction was often an argument on the need for nuclear weapons to maintain national security. However, "people soon wanted to know about the dangers they were facing and of alternatives" to nuclear weapons, he added.

Greenpeace was making a stop in Lebanon because "the region's politics seem to be played out in the country," Naim explained.

The organization's regional office is based in Lebanon.

The three-mast Rainbow Warrior actually arrived in Lebanon on Tuesday night from Israeli waters.

Permission to enter Lebanese waters was delayed till the next morning due to "unanticipated, yet routine, Lebanese bureaucratic paperwork," Naim said, stressing that the ship's visit to Israel had nothing to do with the delay.

"Because it is an international ship, it must go through certain procedures. Everyone here knows that this is a ship working to help the environment, and its stop at Israel has nothing to do with the delay," he said.

The Rainbow Warrior is scheduled to leave for Turkey on Thursday.

The original Rainbow Warrior was sunk in 1985 by French secret service agents on the orders of the French government, in what has been described as an attempt to halt Greenpeace protests against nuclear testing.

The current Rainbow Warrior made its maiden voyage in 1989, and was purchased with compensation paid by the French government for the sinking of its namesake.

Marseille,04 11 2007
The Daily Star
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