Amman, Jordan King Abdullah II said Friday that Jordan wants to develop a peaceful nuclear program, joining Egypt and Arab Gulf countries in considering a nuclear option. Arab nations are fearful over the West's failure to stop Shiite Iran's nuclear ambitions, which they worry will lead to Tehran having an atomic weapon.
Arab countries have complained for years about Israel's nuclear program and reported arsenal, but it never prompted them to seek programs of their own.
But Iran's progress in building nuclear facilities has sparked a rush among Arab nations to look at programs of their own, raising the possibility of a dangerous proliferation of nuclear technology - or even weapons - in the volatile Middle East.
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, nations where Sunni Muslims predominate, have expressed concern about Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon. Now they fear the mainly Shiite Persian nation could develop warheads to back its growing regional power.
Any significant Arab nuclear program is likely years away, and some observers are skeptical that cash-strapped countries like Egypt and Jordan have the resources for such facilities. But simply announcing the intention could be meant as a signal to Iran that its ties to Arab nations will suffer over its nuclear endeavors - and to the United States that its Arab allies are concerned.
"Jordan is trying to toss another log on the fire and ... obliquely point out to the Iranians that the acquisition of such a weapon would create such pressure on the Arab neighbors (to respond) that acquiring the bomb would not be useful" for Iran, said Justin Logan, a foreign policy analyst at the Washington-based Cato Institute.
The Jordanian king announced his interest in a nuclear program in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Abdullah said his kingdom wanted nuclear power "for peaceful purposes" and has been "discussing it with the West."
"The rules governing the nuclear issue have changed in the entire region," he told Haaretz. Though Jordan would rather see a nuclear-free Middle East, he said, "every desire we had on this issue has changed."
Abdullah said all nuclear programs in the region should be subject to international inspection. "We want to make sure this is used for energy. What we don't want is an arms race to come out of this," he said.
Washington has so far shown no objection to nuclear moves among its Mideast allies.
Deputy spokesman Tom Casey, without mentioning Jordan by name, said Friday that every country that adheres strictly to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty "has the right to develop civilian nuclear power for the benefit of their people."