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Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, former President Jimmy Carter said yesterday, while arguing that the US should talk directly to Iran to persuade it to drop its nuclear ambitions.
His remark, made at the Hay-on-Wye festival which promotes current affairs books and literature, is startling because Israel has never admitted having nuclear weapons, let alone how many, although the world assumes their existence. Nor do US officials deviate in public from that Israeli line. Carter, who has immersed himself since his presidency in Israeli-Palestinian relations, was highly critical of Israeli settlers on the West Bank, and of Israel's refusal to talk to elected officials of the Islamic party Hamas, although he said that Israel's security was his prime concern.
Carter, whose presidency was dominated by the 444-day siege in which Iran held 52 American diplomats hostage, said "my advice to the US would be to start talking to Iran now" to persuade it to drop its nuclear work. But he cited Israel's nuclear arsenal - and those of the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - in arguing that Iran would find it almost impossible to develop, in secret, many weapons and the missiles to deliver them.