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Mideast WMD-Free Zone Should be Pursued Incrementally, Experts Say

Analysts at a forum this week in Jordan recommended an incremental approach to achieving the goal of establishing a ban on all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, the Jordan Times reported (see GSN, Nov. 30).

The three-day conference in Amman was organized to help prepare for a planned 2012 international conference aimed at promoting establishment of the WMD-free zone.

Even with the experiences and legal frameworks of five existing regional nuclear weapon-free zones to draw from, more than 10 years of efforts to persuade the Arab states, Iran and Israel to discuss creating similar sector have been unsuccessful. This necessitates a new approach in which the components involved in creating a WMD-free zone for the Middle East would be approached on an individual basis, said the Geneva Center for Security Policy's Marc Finaud.

Finaud said instead of immediately seeking a treaty that would ban all chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear weapons, participants at the 2012 forum should pursue initial trust-enforcing actions. These steps could include regional approval of the U.N. nuclear watchdog's Additional Protocol, which permits heightened atomic site investigations, and of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which lacks the membership of Israel, Egypt and Syria.

"Small steps would encourage countries in the region that establishing an overall zone would be in states' interest," said Martin Malin, executive director of the Managing the Atom project at Harvard University.

Also important would be creating a mechanism to make certain that all Middle Eastern are honoring their promises to not build unconventional weapons. "There needs to be a regional body to facilitate and enforce the zone," Partnership for Global Security President Kenneth Luongo said.

Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan said it was important for Middle Eastern states to agree on just what the envisioned WMD-free zone would entail.

"Countries across the region want to see a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction -- all Arab states have agreed on this point," the chairman said. "As we go into 2012, we need to get the details down on paper on what a zone would look like, how it would be enforced and how we can ensure transparency from Morocco to Iran."

Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs analyst Mohammed Shaker said there was little that could be achieved without the participation of Israel and Iran. Jerusalem is widely assumed to posses nuclear weapons and there is widespread concern about Iran's atomic intentions (see related GSN story, today).

"We have to realize that without them on board, there can be no zone," Shaker said.

Multiple circulating proposals would permit different states to develop elements of the nuclear fuel cycle, such as uranium mining, uranium enrichment, nuclear material processing and used fuel management so that a regional self-sufficient nuclear energy capability is created

"This way we could have a division of labor without one country containing all the necessary ingredients of a nuclear weapon," Shaker said.

He cautioned that next year's forum would be just the beginning of a lengthy effort: "2012 is not the end, but the beginning" (Taylor Luck, Jordan Times, Dec. 1).

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