Dr James Zogby With the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by the US and Russia, a nuclear summit is about to begin in Washington, and pressure mounting to rein in Irans nuclear ambitions, a few troubling issues need to be addressed. In negotiating and then signing a new arms reduction pact with Russia and in announcing a new US posture on the use of nuclear weapons, President Barack Obama has come under withering attacks from the rightwing. Accusing the president of unilaterally disarming or weakening the US position in the world is sheer nonsense. What START provides is that both the US and Russia will each dramatically reduce their nuclear weapons arsenal to 1,550. A few decades ago we and the then Soviet Union had a combined total of over 70,000 such weapons, a perfectly bizarre amount. As we all understood, back then, using these weapons was unthinkable since they would result in mutually assured destruction. And yet we continued to build and deploy. Unwinding this insanity was the right thing to do and it still is. The presidents vision of a nuclear free world (one he shares with former President Reagan) is the correct stance. START represents movement in the right direction. His critics are dead wrong. The Nuclear Summit is designed to promote the control of nuclear weapons and to secure worldwide buy-in. Israels decision to send a low level representative in order to avoid criticism of their nuclear programme and US silence on Israels stance are both disappointing and dangerous. It is nonsense to assume that Israel can be given a free pass. Despite the efforts of apologists, Israels claim of exceptionalism doesnt hold up to regional scrutiny. As a result of US guarantees, Israel has a conventional military capability that exceeds that of all of its neighbours combined. And they have rather freely used this force in successive wars that have dealt devastating blows to all their neighbours. Despite this, Israelis have not found peace, since peace and security will only come through a negotiated just settlement with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese. And so of what use is Israels nuclear programme (or its silence about that programme and its refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty - NPT)? Possessing nuclear weapons has not created a deterrent. Nor can Israel use these weapons, if in fact they possess them. Can Israel bomb Gaza or the West Bank or Lebanon, without endangering its own population with the resultant radioactive fallout? And what would be the human and international consequences of Israels use of nuclear weapons? It remains unthinkable to use such weapons and therefore nonsense to stockpile or hide them. In fact the only purpose served by Israels stubborn insistence that it maintains silence about its nuclear programme, and the US continuing to provide cover for Israels behaviour in this regard, is to impede progress toward establishing the Middle East as a nuclear free zone. When Egypt first raised this idea years ago, its consideration was blocked by Israel and the US. That was a mistake then and it still is now. A further complication of the US giving Israel a pass on nuclear weapons is that it raises the charge of double standard - one so clear that even the most hardnosed defenders of Israel cannot deny it. With growing concern over Irans nuclear intentions, this double standard has become more than an embarrassment, it has become self-defeating and dangerous. Why give Tehran an easy argument to defend their indefensible behaviour? When every Arab and Muslim knows that the US is turning a blind eye to Israels nukes (and will immediately raise this issue whenever the question of nuclear disarmament is discussed), why continue to ignore the elephant in the room? Surely, no one wants to see an Iran with nuclear weapons - weapons they also can never use without insuring that massive devastation be visited upon their country. But the best way to insure that a dangerous arms race does not occur in this region is to move towards a nuclear free Middle East. The way forward is to drop the shield of secrecy that surrounds Israels programme, insist that Israel join the world community and sign the NPT, and negotiate a comprehensive peace with its neighbours. This is how to end nuclear madness and advance the presidents vision. The writer is the president of the Arab American Institute, Washington DC.