TOPICS : Islamic nations seek nuclear energy

As the West debates the perceived Iranian nuclear threat, leaders of the world’s eight largest Muslim countries, known as the D8, met in Bali, Indonesia, over the weekend where they asserted the right of Islamic countries to peaceful nuclear energy.

The D8 is the brainchild of Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey’s first Islamist prime minister, who was forced to step down in 1997. The group — which includes Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey — was established with the Istanbul Declaration on June 15, 1997 and has since met roughly every two years. The Bali summit was the fifth in the series.

The D8 is an offshoot of the Organisation of the Islamic Countries (OIC). However, while the 57-country strong OIC is dominated by the Middle-Eastern countries, the D8 represents the voice of almost 900 million people, who, with the exception of Iran, follow a moderate Sunni version of Islam and have adopted Western values of democracy. The group’s focus is trade and welfare. As a matter of fact, the organisation’s stated aims are “to improve developing countries’ position in the world economy; diversify and create new opportunities in trade relations, enhance participation in decision-making at international level and provide better standards of living for its citizens.” Yet, the group also aims to counterbalance the influence the G8, the industrialised countries in the world, including the US, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy Japan and Russia. Regarding alternative energy, the Bali Declaration reads: ‘’We reaffirm our commitment to enhance cooperation in the field of energy, to develop alternative and renewable energy sources, among others bio-fuel, biomass, hydro, solar, wind and the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

The document was quickly poun-ced on by Iran, which is currently looking for international support in its ongoing tussle with the Washington-led group that accuses it of secretly trying to build up a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran claims that it is purely interested in clean nuclear energy. But Indonesia has signed an internationally binding treaty against nuclear weapons and still it recently announced plans to build a nuclear plant, which should be operative by 2015. It is significant that in their speeches, none of the heads of delegations representing the D8 members mentioned Iran’s nuclear programme.

At least one D8 country, Pakistan, has nuclear weapons and is non-signatory to the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Despite being a close ally, Washington has refused to cooperate with Pakistan in a civilian nuclear energy programme on the grounds that it had proliferated nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Meanwhile, issues such as trade figured high on the leaders’ agenda and two agreements were signed to lower import tariffs on a range of products and help each other in customs matters. Between 1999 and 2004, D8 intra-trade increased nearly 127 per cent reaching $33 billion. — IPS