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Israel denies nuclear talks with SAfrica

Israel never "negotiated the exchange" of nuclear weapons with South Africa, President Shimon Peres said on Monday, denying a report that he personally offered missiles to the apartheid regime in 1975.

world Updated: May 24, 2010 18:47 IST

Israel never "negotiated the exchange" of nuclear weapons with South Africa, President Shimon Peres said on Monday, denying a report that he personally offered missiles to the apartheid regime in 1975.

The report, published by Britain's Guardian newspaper, quoted minutes from a series of top secret meetings in which Peres, who was then defence minister, allegedly offered his then South African counterpart PW Botha warheads "in three different sizes."

If the minutes were proven to be authentic, it would be the first documentary evidence of Israel's possession of nuclear weapons -- a fact which is widely accepted but which the Jewish state has neither confirmed nor denied.

The allegation prompted a strongly worded response from Peres' office.

"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," it said.

"Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa. There exists no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place," it said.

The Guardian had written the piece based on "selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts", it added.

The South African documents, which are dated March 31, 1975 and marked "top secret," show Peres' offer was made in response to Botha's request for Israel to supply them with warheads.

But they make no mention of any "exchange" between the parties. At the time, South Africa had not yet acquired nuclear capabilities and would not do so for several years.

At the talks, Israeli officials "formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal," the memo said.

It also said Peres and Botha signed an agreement about military ties between the two countries including a clause which said "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.

The material was discovered by US academic Sasha Polakow-Suransky while researching a book on the close relationship between the two allies.

According to the Guardian, Israel tried to stop Pretoria from declassifying the documents in response to a request from Polakow-Suransky, whose book The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's secret alliance with apartheid South Africa, is published in the United States this week.

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with around 200 warheads, but has maintained a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its capabilities since the mid-60s.

In September 1979, Israel and South Africa allegedly carried out a secret nuclear test an offshore platform in the southern Indian Ocean.

The revelation came to light in another declassified document which was released in Washington in 2006 at the request of the security studies centre at Georgetown University.

The document, which was prepared for the White House, said Israel and South Africa, which was then under apartheid rule, were cooperating on military issues, including nuclear research.

South Africa later dismantled its nuclear weapons programme under UN supervision.