Diplomacy under the nuclear shadow: Kennedy, Nasser, and Dimona

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As John Kennedy prepared to enter the White House, the Middle East was on the verge of making a leap into the nuclear age. This article examines a secret and extended dialogue between Nasser and Kennedy on nuclear proliferation that took place under the shadow of the Israeli reactor in Dimona. Through relying on primary sources from the United States and Egypt, it traces the historical origins of the unresolved tensions between both countries on how to address Israel’s nuclear capabilities and the impact of that on their bilateral relations. In doing so, it presents a less familiar side of Nasser’s leadership, his perceptions of regional security and his approach to the nuclear question, both regionally and internationally. It also brings into focus the limits of Kennedy’s non-proliferation policy and proactive diplomacy in the Middle East, particularly in addressing Dimona. To this day, US toleration of Israel’s nuclear regional monopoly has exposed the US to accusations of double standards. The article traces how both Nasser and Kennedy were constrained in dealing with the nuclear question in the region during a key and foundational period of the Middle East’s nuclear history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-332
Number of pages18
Issue number2
Early online date11 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Nuclear arms control
  • nuclear non-proliferation
  • Egypt
  • Dimona


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