By Aluf Benn
Ha'aretz Diplomatic Correspondent

Ha'aretz, March 14, 2000

Prime Minister Ehud Barak wants United States President Bill Clinton to renew his "nuclear pledge" when the strategic relationship with Israel is reviewed after the signing of a peace agreement with Syria.

Clinton promised to preserve Israel's strategic deterrance capabilities, and to ensure that any U.S. initiative to limit arms would be coordinated with Israel so as not to infringe on its deterrance capabilities. Israeli sources say these promises were part of a letter sent by Clinton to then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Under a plan formulated by the prime minister's bureau, Clinton will sign a similar letter addressed to Barak rather than Netanyahu.

The Clinton-Netanyahu letter is defined as an appendix to the strategic agreement signed between the two, shortly after the finalization of the Wye Memorandum with the Palestinian Authority.

The letter reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the 1969 agreement between it and Israel whereby the United States promises to avoid putting pressure on Israel in the nuclear area, so long as Israel promises to continue with its ambiguous nuclear facade and not declare that it is a nuclear power.

The Netanyahu government was perturbed by perceived attempts by the Americans to force Israel into joining the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), an international agreement, still in the stages of formulation.

This seeks to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, such as plutonium, with an international team of supervisors enforcing it. Netanyahu had made it clear to Clinton that Israel would not sign such an agreement since it presents a serious threat to national security.

The FMCT fell to the sidelines somewhat following last year's elections. A member of the State Department, Robert Eidenhorn, recently tried to broach the subject at a meeting of the joint-strategic committee, but met with the absolute refusal of the head of the Israeli delegation, David Ivri, to discuss it.