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Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East

While the immediate focus of international attention has been on stopping Iran from obtaining the ability to build nuclear weapons, an equally worrisome development is that the Iranian drive to obtain a nuclear bomb has stimulated a regional race for nuclear technology to counter the perceived threat from a nuclear Iran.

Like Iran, at least 11 other Middle Eastern countries have either announced plans to explore atomic energy or have signed nuclear cooperation agreements: Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman (Yemen and Libya cancelled their nuclear programs and Syria’s was destroyed by Israel).  Each of these countries, like Iran as well, have explicitly stated that they are only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

The fear is now that these countries may follow the Iranian example and work toward building a nuclear bomb to protect themselves in any future nuclear arms race.

As President Obama noted in March 2012, "\It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon ... so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe ... The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.

These Middle East nations are increasingly apprehensive about the threat of a nuclear Iran and the failure of the international community to take decisive actions to prevent Tehran from achieving its nuclear ambitions. If the West is going to protect its interests in the region and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it is vital now that Iran be stopped so steps can be taken to rein in these new efforts to join the nuclear club.

Developments in Nuclear Proliferation:
(Listed in Chronological Order by Country)


  • In January 2007, Algeria and Russia signed an agreement to investigate the establishment of a nuclear power facility.
  • In June 2007, Algeria signed a nuclear cooperation accord with the USA to begin generating nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
  • During 2008, Algeria signed other nuclear technology agreements with Argentina, China, and France.
  • In February 2009, the government announced that it planned to build its first nuclear power plant to be operating about 2020.
  • Algeria has one of the most advanced nuclear-science programs in the Arab world and is considering the role that nuclear power might play in its domestic energy mix.
  • In 2013, This operational goal for a nuclear power plant was pushed back to 2025.  A Nuclear Engineering Institute was established in Algeria to provide safety training and education for future workers in the nuclear sector. 
  • In September 2014, Algerian and Russian officials signed an agreement to cooperate in peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  This agreement provides for the design, construction, operation and servicing of nuclear power plants and reactors in Algeria as well as collaboration in researching nuclear power for the uses of agriculture, biology, soil science, seawater desalination, and medicine.


  • In September 2006, Egypt announced it would revive long dormant plans to construct a nuclear enegry.
  • In March 2007, Energy and Electricity Minister Hassan Younis announced plans to construct 10 nuclear-powered "electricity-generating stations" across the country.
  • Russia and Egypt signed a nuclear cooperation accord in March 2008.
  • In 2009, the Egyptian Nuclear Power Plant Authority (NPAA) and WorleyParsons Limited concluded a $160 million contract with services to include "site and technology selection studies and carries through to design, construction management, commissioning and start-up of the 1,200 MWe nuclear power plant."
  • In 2010, Cairo formally requested nuclear energy training assistance from the Korea International Cooperation Agency
  • As of June 2011, Egypt's transitional government was planning to invite international companies to bid for their reactor construction project at El-Dabaa.
  • In April 2013, Egypt withdrew from the sessions of the preparatory committee for the 2015 Review Conference to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in Geneva stating unsatisfaction with dealing with the seriousness of the issue in the Middle East.
  • In November 2013, Interim Egyptian President Mansour announced the re-launch of Egypt's nuclear power program.  The plant will be constructed in El-Dabaa and residents were once again displaced from their homes there for the plant to be built.  The Egyptian government compensated these individuals with money and new land elsewhere.  Construction on this new plant is slated to begin in 2016 at the earliest. 
  • While Russian President Vladimir Putin was visiting Egypt in February 2015, Egypt and Russia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Russia to assist in building the first nuclear plant in the Egyptian city of El-Dabaa.  During a press conference featuring both leaders, Egyptian President al Sisi stressed the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 
  • Egyptian President El-Sisi visited Russia in August 2015, where he met with Vladimir Putin. The two announced plans for Russia to build two nuclear power stations in Egypt.
  • Officials from Moscow and Cairo signed an agreement on November 19, 2015, for Russia to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt, expected to be completed by 2022. The Russians are expected to build a “third generation” plant with four nuclear reactors in El-Dabaa, Egypt. Also in 2015, Egypt signed an agreement with China to enhance nuclear cooperation.
  • In December 2017, Russia signed an agreement to build four light-water reactors for electricity production at El-Dabaa and a storage depot to hold spent nuclear fuel before it is sent to Russia for reprocessing. Russia will also build factories in Egypt for the domestic manufacture of nuclear plant components. The reactors have “no direct implications for the development of nuclear weapons,” according to Raphael Ofek but will “legitimize any future attempt by Egypt to build a uranium-enrichment or nuclear-fuel-reprocessing facility.”

Iran (See Iran Nuclear History)


  • Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari requested help from nuclear countries to build an atomic reactor for peaceful nuclear power purposes at the September 2017 meeting of the United Nations.  Previous Iraqi efforts to build a nuclear reactor facility were dashed with an Israeli airstrike in 1981.  


  • In January 2007, Jordanian King Abdullah announced in an interview with Haaretz that Jordan was interested in acquiring nuclear power for peaceful and energy purposes.
  • In August 2007, Jordan established its Committee for Nuclear Strategy and set out a program for the development of nuclear power.
  • In mid 2008, Jordan signed an agreement with the Atomic Energy of Canada to conduct a study on building a reactor using natural uranium fuel for power.
  • In December 2008, Jordan signed an MOU with Korea Electric Power Corp to carry out site selection and feasibility study on nuclear power projects. 
  • In November 2009, Jordan signed an $11.3 million agreement with WorleyParsons for the pre-construction phase of a 1000 MWe nuclear power plant.
  • In February 2011, Jordan and Turkey signed a nuclear cooperation agreement.
  • In 2012, Jordan announced plans to start building a nuclear power plant in 2013 for operation by 2020 and a second one for operation by 2025.
  • Jordan signed nuclear cooperation agreements with France, Canada, UK and Russia, in respect to both power and desalination.
  • Jordan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China, covering uranium mining and nuclear power.
  • Jordan also has cooperation agreements with South Korea, Japan, Spain, Italy, Romania, Turkey and Argentina related to infrastructure for nuclear power.
  • In October 2013, Jordanian officials signed an agreement with Russia's nuclear power agency Rosatom for them to supply Jordan with two AES-92 nuclear reactor units.  Under the agreement Rosatom's subsidiary Rusatom Overseas will operate the plant. It was also announced that Russia will be paying 49.1% of the cost of the plant, with the Jordanian government picking up the remaining 50.1% of the cost. 
  • In May 2014, Jordanian Uranium Mining Company (JUMCO) announced plans to build a $140 million uranium mill in central Jordan near Amman. 
  • In August 2014, The IAEA's Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review team produced a favorable report after reviewing Jordan's preparations for nuclear power. 
  • In September 2014, Jordan signed a project development agreement with Rusatom Overseas and they hope to have a finalized construction contract by 2016. 
  • In March 2015, Jordan signed a $10 million agreement with Russia's nuclear agency Rusatom, with plans to build a massive 2-reactor nuclear plant at Amra by 2022. The deal with Rusatom provides for a feasibility study, site evaluation process and an environmental impact assessment. 
  • In November 2018, Jordan told an IAEA ministerial conference that it was working on two parallel projects of a single nuclear reactor.
  • The kingdom is also interested in an agreement with the United States, but the Trump administration wants Jordan to emulate UAE and rule out uranium enrichment.


  • In March 2009, Kuwait setup a national nuclear energy commission, in cooperation with the IAEA, to consider the development of a nuclear technology program.
  • In April 2010, it signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with France relating civil nuclear energy applications, including electricity generation, water desalination, research, agronomy, biology, earth sciences and medicine.
  • In September 2010, announced intention to build 4 nuclear power reactors by 2022 but this plan was scrapped in mid-2011.
  • In June 2010, Kuwait signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the U.S. Government on nuclear safeguards and other nonproliferation topics.
  • By December 2010, Kuwait had nuclear cooperation agreements with USA, Russia and Japan. 


  • In 2007, nuclear power company Areva signed an agreement with Morocco's Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP) to recover uranium from phosphoric acid.
  • In October 2007, Morocco signed a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with France to develop a nuclear power plant near Marrakesh.
  • In January 2010, government announced plans for two nuclear reactors to start operation after 2020.
  • In January 2011, the government approved plans to set up a nuclear safety agency and draft a law on nuclear security.


  • In June 2009, Oman signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia.
  • In February 2010, a delegation of U.S. experts met with Oman's Nuclear Steering Committee regarding areas of potential future cooperation in nuclear technology.


  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center released a report in August 2015, showing that Pakistan was quickly ramping up their nuclear arsenal and may be building up to 20 nuclear warheads per year. The report concluded that Pakistan would likely have the world's third largest nuclear arsenal by 2020, estimating that they are going to have at least 350 nuclear warheads.
  • Pakistan test-fired a new ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead on December 15, 2015. The Shaheen 1A has a 900km range, and can deliver various types of warheads.


  • Qatar was actively involved in the GCC decision of December 2006 to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
  • In April 2008, Qatar announced a plan to build a nuclear plant.
  • In May 2008, Qatar sent experts to a meeting of the IAEA in Vienna.
  • In 2010, Qatar raised the possibility of a regional project for nuclear generation.

Saudi Arabia

  • In May 2008, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia agreed to establish a nuclear cooperation relationship and Saudi Arabia joined the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
  • In April 2009, King Abdullah told US diplomat Dennis Ross, “If [Iran] get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.”
  • In August 2009, the Saudi minister of water and electricity announced that the kingdom was working on plans for its first nuclear power plant.
  • In July 2010, Saudi Arabia and France announced the signing of a nuclear cooperation pact in order to develop atomic energy.
  • In February 2011, Saudi Arabia and France signed a bilateral cooperation agreement for the development of nuclear power.
  • In January 2012, a senior official noted, “We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don’t ... If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit.”
  • Prince Turki al-Faisal noted that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, “[that] would compel Saudi Arabia…to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences”.
  • In January 2012, King Abdullah signed an agreement with China for cooperation in the development and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
  • In February 2012, the London Times quoted a “senior Saudi official” as saying that Riyadh would launch a “twin-track nuclear weapons program” should Tehran realize its ambition of obtaining a nuclear weapon.
  • In September 2013, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Toshiba/ Westinghouse signed agreements with the Exelon Nuclear Partners to pursue a reactor construction deal with  The King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE).
  • In November 2013, multiple sources told BBC News that the Saudi government had invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects and could obtain atomic bombs at will and might be able to deploy such devices more quickly than even Iran.
  • In May 2014, The King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) started work with the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) to recruit and train workers for the plant, and establish safety standards. 
  • Saudi Arabia signed a secretive nuclear cooperation agreement with North Korea in March 2015.
  • Saudi officials called to match Iran's nuclear ambitions in May 2015, “We prefer a region without nuclear weapons. But if Iran does it, nothing can prevent us from doing it too, not even the international community.”
  • In May 2015, senior American officials revealed that Saudi Arabia had struck a deal with Pakistan for the purchase of nuclear weapons.
  • Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with Russia in June 2015 to cooperate on nuclear energy development.
  • In July 2015, Saudi Arabia announced their intention to develop a “military nuclear program” within a decade.
  • May 2016: Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi Intelligence Chief, states that “all options” would be on the table if Iran takes steps towards developing a nuclear bomb, “including the acquisition of nuclear weapons to face whatever eventually might come from Iran.”
  • In an interview with CBS This Morning in March 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.
  • In May 2018, following President Trump's decision to abandon the Iranian Nuclear Accord, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir tells CNN We have made it very clear that if Iran acquires a nuclear capability we will do everything we can to do the same.
  • In August 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported Saudi Arabia has constructed an undisclosed facility with Chinese help for extracting uranium yellowcake from uranium ore which is one indication Riyadh is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons.


  • From 2001-2007, Syria is believed to have been building a gas-cooled reactor similar to the plutonium production unit at Yongbyong in North Korea (this plant was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in 2007 and all remains were subsequently demolished by the Syrian government).
  • In 2011, the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission published a proposal for a new nuclear power plant by 2020.


  • In December 2006, Tunisia signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with France focused on nuclear power and desalination.
  • In April 2008, the nuclear cooperation agreement with France was amplified to include the possible construction of a nuclear power plant.


  • Early in 2006, the port city of Sinop was chosen to host a commercial nuclear power plant.
  • In August 2006, Turkey announced plans to have three nuclear power plants total operating by 2015. Discussions had been under way with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd regarding two units as an initial investment.
  • In 2007, a bill concerning construction and operation of nuclear power plants and sale of their electricity was passed by parliament and subsequently approved by the President. The bill provided for the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK) to set the criteria for building and operating the plants.
  • In February 2008, prepatory work began to build a second nuclear power plant in Sinop.
  • In May 2008, a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the USA entered into force.
  • In May 2010, Russia and Turkey signed an intergovernmental agreement for to build and operate a nuclear plant with four reactors in Akkuyu.
  • In June 2010, a nuclear cooperation agreement with South Korea was signed to build the second Sinop plant with four nuclear reactors.
  • In 2011, the government announced intentions for three further nuclear power plants with four reactors each, all to be operational by 2030.
  • In March 2012, a Turkish public opinion survey found a majority of 54% supporting policies that would lead Turkey to develop their own nuclear weapons.
  • In January 2013, Turkish President Abdullah Gul called for a comprehensive solution to Iran's nuclear program and said Turkey does not want to see any neighboring country possess nuclear weapons. “Turkey will not accept a neighboring country possessing weapons not possessed by Turkey herself,” Gul said.
  • In November 2013, The IAEA conducted an Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review and concluded that Turkey had taken appropriate steps in preparation for a new nuclear power program. 
  • The country's first nuclear power plant, at Akkuyu, commenced construction in April 2018. A Franco-Japanese consortium was expected to build the second nuclear plant, at Sinop. China is in line to build the third plant.
  • Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on September 5, 2019, it was unacceptable for nuclear-armed states to forbid Ankara from obtaining its own nuclear weapons.


  • In January 2008, UAE signed a deal with a French company to build two nuclear reactors.
  • UAE signed a nuclear framework agreement with France for cooperation in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful, civilian purposes.
  • UAE and U.S. signed an agreement in April 2008 to establish peaceful nuclear energy cooperation and formalized that MOU in January 2009.
  • In May 2009, President Obama approved the agreement on nuclear energy cooperation.
  • The agreement with the U.S. follows the public launch of a UAE policy document outlining potential development of a domestic nuclear power plant.
  • In August 2009, UAE joined he IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management.
  • In May 2010, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, said they were developing nuclear technology in a "transparent, safe, secure, and peaceful" manner and outlined the UAE's policy to "develop its nuclear energy programme in a responsible manner".
  • In March 2011, the UAE accepted a $20 billion bid from a South Korean consortium to build four commercial nuclear power reactors, total 5.6 GWe, by 2020.
  • In June 2011, a national opinion poll found strong support for nuclear technology development with 85% of respondents believing in the importance of nuclear energy.
  • In July 2012, UAE began building a maiden nuclear power plant and signed an agreement with Australia for the supply of uranium.
  • In March 2013, ENEC submitted a 10,000 page construction license application for the third and fourth nuclear reactor units, these licenses were approved and issued in September 2014
  • In October 2014, Construction began on the third nuclear power plant. 
  • In December 2014, Construction on the first of four nuclear power plants in Abu Dhabi is on schedule at 61% completion.  They expect the first plant to be providing nuclear energy to the city in 2017. 
  • In March 2015, the UAE submitted their first nuclear operating license application.
  • In 2017, the UAE said it aimed to obtain half its energy from nuclear power and renewables by 2050.
  • In July 2020, the UAE became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant. Once its four units are operational, the plant is expected to provide a quarter of the country’s electricity. “The UAE’s investment in these four nuclear reactors risks further destabilizing the volatile Gulf region, damaging the environment and raising the possibility of nuclear proliferation,” according to Paul Dorfman, a researcher at University College London’s Energy Institute.

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