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Israel’s Peres Denies Nuclear-Arms Offer to Apartheid S. Africa

Israeli President Shimon Peres denied a report in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper that he offered to sell nuclear arms to apartheid South Africa 35 years ago.

“Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa,” according to a statement issued today by Peres’s office in Jerusalem. “There exists no basis in reality for the claims published this morning by the Guardian.”

A series of documents stamped “Top Secret” were published in the Guardian with a story that described a 1975 meeting in which P.W. Botha, South Africa’s defense minister at the time, asked Peres, then Israel’s defense minister, about buying missiles. The newspaper cited a new book by U.S. researcher Sasha Polakow-Suransky as the source of the material.

The Guardian said Peres’s offer is evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons. Israel’s policy has always been neither to confirm nor to deny their existence. Israel has refused to open its nuclear facility in Dimona to United Nations inspectors. It says the site is a research facility.

South African government spokesman Themba Maseko declined to comment immediately on the Guardian story. He said his office is researching it and will comment later. Israel’s Defense Ministry referred questions to Peres’s office.

Minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 reveal that Botha asked for missiles, provided the “correct payload” was available, the Guardian reported. Peres, it said, responded that payloads could be supplied “in three sizes.” The newspaper said that was a reference to conventional, chemical and nuclear warheads.

No ‘Israeli Signature’

According to the statement from Peres’s office, “there exists no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place.”

Polakow-Suransky’s book, “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Alliance With Apartheid South Africa” (Pantheon, 352 pages, $27.95), will be published tomorrow.

Botha didn’t go ahead with the transaction, in part because of the cost and in part because the approval of Israel’s prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, was thought uncertain, the Guardian said.

Israeli authorities were unsuccessful in trying to persuade the post-apartheid South African government not to declassify the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request, the newspaper reported.

Separately, Mordechai Vanunu, who served 18 years in prison for leaking details of Israel’s nuclear program, was jailed again yesterday for violating the terms of his release.

Vanunu was originally sentenced in 1986 after being convicted of treason for giving the London-based Sunday Times details of Israel’s alleged work on nuclear arms. The material included photographs of the Dimona nuclear plant, where he worked as a technician.

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