Cairo - Africa today joins Latin America and the South Pacific in an expanding club of zones free of nuclear weapons when 53 African states and the five big nuclear powers sign the Treaty of Pelindaba in Cairo.
The choice of venue, in the only African country which borders Israel, is another turn of the screw in an Arab campaign to persuade the Jewish state to open up its nuclear programme to international inspection and eventually dismantle it.
The naming of the treaty, after the site where South Africa developed and then dismantled its own nuclear weapons, also sends Israel a message that unilateral nuclear disarmament and regional peace can go hand in hand.
The treaty, which bans nuclear weapons from the African continent and the islands around it, specifically advocates a similar agreement covering the Middle East states.
"The parties [recognise] that the establishment of other NWFZs [nuclear- weapon-free zones], especially in the Middle East, would enhance the security of states party to the African NWFZ," says the treaty.
For the host country Egypt it is also a step towards banning all weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical or biological - from the countries in its neighbourhood.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will invoke that target in his keynote address to the signing ceremony, officials said.
"The treaty is doubtless a historic step, which must be followed by the next logical step - clearing the Middle East of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction," the Egyptian government newspaper al-Gomhuria said yesterday.
The five declared nuclear states - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - will sign protocols to cooperate with the treaty and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any part of Africa.
France and Spain will sign a separate protocol covering the Canary Islands and two towns on the coast of Morocco in the case of Spain, and the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Reunion in the case of France.
But in a concession to the big powers, the treaty leaves each state to set its own policy on visits by foreign ships or overflights by foreign aircraft which may carry nuclear arms.
In another let-out clause, the treaty gives each state the right to withdraw from the treaty "if it decides that extraordinary events ... have jeopardised its supreme interests".
But signatories must disclose any capability they have to make nuclear weapons, then destroy these arms and the facilities for making them under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
They also promise to reach safeguard agreements with the IAEA, equivalent to those under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, which all African states already support. Israel, which refuses to sign the non-proliferation treaty, is believed to possess 200 nuclear warheads.Reuse content