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Mideast WMD Summit Canceled: Diplomats

Finnish diplomat Jaako Laajava, the designated "facilitator" for a planned 2012 summit on establishing the Middle East as a WMD-free zone, shown in May. Diplomats on Saturday said the event has been canceled (AP Photo/Ronald Zak). Finnish diplomat Jaako Laajava, the designated "facilitator" for a planned 2012 summit on establishing the Middle East as a WMD-free zone, shown in May. Diplomats on Saturday said the event has been canceled (AP Photo/Ronald Zak).

A much-anticipated gathering on establishing the Middle East as a WMD-free zone has been called off due to a poor geopolitical climate ahead of the previously tentatively planned December meeting in Finland, anonymous international relations officials told the Associated Press on Saturday.

Prospects for the summit, which was formally called for by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, were never certain, largely due to questions on whether Iran and Israel would attend. The two nations' participation was viewed as essential for the summit to be a success as Tel Aviv is widely seen to posses the region's only nuclear arsenal and Tehran is suspected of pursuing an atomic arms capability. Iran announced earlier this month it would participate though Israel has yet to offer a formal answer on its attendance.

As one of the summit's chief coordinators, the United States is anticipated to shortly issue an official statement announcing the "time is not opportune" for holding the forum due to the fraught situation in the Middle East, two unidentified diplomats said. Alongside the nuclear standoff with Iran and tensions surrounding Israel, the nearly 20-month civil war in Syria is increasingly spreading violence outside its borders.

It is not apparent whether the WMD-free zone summit will be rescheduled for a later day or canceled altogether. Nonetheless, the failure to hold the event in the timeline set out by the 2010 review conference is expected to contribute further to some nations' belief that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has outlived its usefulness as a platform for encouraging worldwide nuclear disarmament. Should this effort fail, there is not likely to be a new push to hold a WMD-free zone meeting until the 2015 treaty review conference, according to AP.

Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball said "an indefinite cancellation of the long-awaited conference on a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone will only worsen the proliferation risks in the future and undermine the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty."

Tehran, many Arab governments and countries in the Nonaligned Movement point out the NPT accord has failed over its 42-year history to lead member nations China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States to dismantle their nuclear arsenals. Many NPT signatories are also critical of Washington's tacit acceptance of Israel's presumed strategic stockpile even as it leads an international sanctions campaign to coerce Iran into giving up its uranium enrichment activities.

Though regional tensions surrounding Syria, Iran and other regional states are anticipated to be officially blamed for the WMD summit's cancellation, an anonymous diplomat told AP the real reason is Israel's failure to confirm its attendance. The hard-line postures adopted by many Arab governments toward the nation left Tel Aviv no diplomatic room to attend, according to the envoy.

Tel Aviv's longstanding policy is that Israeli-Arab peace must be reached before any WMD-free zone can be declared for the region.

The envoy said that Russia, which along with the United States and the United Kingdom was organizing the summit, does not support calling it off.

The event's specially appointed "facilitator," Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava, stated by e-mail to Reuters on Sunday that it was crucial for all Middle Eastern states to participate in the summit. "Many issues regarding the meeting remain open," Laajava wrote. "One essential target is to get every country in the region to participate in the conference."

An anonymous envoy from a European country said the summit had not been called off but was at a "critical stage."

Separate interviewed diplomats said while it was unlikely the summit would happen in December it could be rescheduled for a later date after Israel holds parliamentary elections in early 2013.

An unidentified nuclear specialist said he thought the event would be rescheduled. 

"The political circumstances that characterize the Middle East render a WMDFZ unlikely in the foreseeable future," one-time head U.N. atomic weapons investigator Pierre Goldschmidt said to Reuters.

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