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Israel's Sharon Ties Disarming WMDs to Mideast Peace

July 29 2004

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Thursday Israel would only reconsider the need for its "deterrent capability" when there is a comprehensive Middle East peace and its neighbors abandon weapons of mass destruction.

The Jewish state refuses to admit or deny it has nuclear weapons under a policy of "strategic ambiguity," but international experts estimate it has an arsenal of 100 to 200 warheads, making it one of the biggest nuclear powers.

Sharon noted that longtime foe Libya had agreed to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and Iran has come under international pressure to come clean on its atomic program.

" It could be that one day when we arrive at a comprehensive peace and everyone disarms completely, we will also be ready to consider taking steps," Sharon told a meeting of his rightwing Likud party in Tel Aviv.

But he said Israel still faced an "existential danger" and that the United States, its main ally, had made clear the Jewish state "is not to be touched when it comes to its deterrent capability."

Mohammed ElBaradei, director the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said Sharon told him during a visit to Israel earlier this month that he would discuss ridding the Middle East of nuclear arms but only as part of a broader peace process in the future.

However, this was the first time Sharon has made such a statement in public.

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