Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
More Effort Required to Realize WMD-Free Middle East Conference: Facilitator
The Finnish diplomat working to organize an international conference on establishing a WMD-free Middle East said in May that "substantial progress" had been made toward realizing the event, but that it remains "clear that further and intensified efforts are needed," Arms Control Today reported in its June edition (see GSN, May 11).
Event "facilitator" Jaakko Laajava delivered an update on his efforts during a preparatory meeting in Vienna, Austria, for the 2015 review conference for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Treaty states at their 2010 conference called for a forum this year that would promote creating a prohibition on unconventional weapons in the Middle East. There has been talk that the event might be held in December in Finland.
Obstacles include potential nonparticipation by key states Iran and Israel. Tel Aviv is a non-NPT government widely accepted to hold the region's only nuclear arsenal, while there are broad concerns about the intentions of the atomic program operated by treaty state Iran (see related GSN stories, today).
Laajava said that he would have to join with the "conveners" of the conference -- Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the head of the United Nations -- "and the states of the region" to step up work toward ensuring the gathering actually occurs.
In talks with officials from the region, Laajava said he has promoted "an open and forward-looking approach and to engage with each other in constructive dialogue and cooperation." While “the international community and the facilitator can provide important support, the ownership and ultimate responsibility for a successful conference and the establishment of the zone lies with” states in the Middle East, he said in a report at the NPT event.
Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States at the meeting said: “We are prepared to assist in any way requested, recognizing that zones free of nuclear [weapons] and other WMD cannot be created counter to the will of the region by the efforts of extra-regional powers or international organizations. ... The impetus for the establishment of such a zone, must originate from the states of the region, who are ultimately responsible for creating and establishing the political and security conditions that will provide a sustainable foundation for such a zone.”
The United Arab Emirates, representing the Arab League, reminded delegates that the 2010 NPT report urged a conference "attended by all states of the Middle East," as "it is the participating regional states that will determine the follow-up procedures that will be undertaken by the facilitator."
Washington could press Tel Aviv to attend the conference, an official with a Persian Gulf state told Arms Control Today on May 21. Russia, meanwhile, could take corresponding action regarding Iran, the source said.
However, a U.S. official played down the Obama administration's leverage on the matter over Israel, which has expressed reservations about attending. There is "nothing the U.S. can do on the ground" if Arab governments appear unwilling to refrain from exploiting the conference as an opportunity to lash out at Israel, the source said.
Meanwhile, there is no "obligation" for Moscow to draw Tehran to the conference, according to the official. That might be a job for Laajava, though in the end it is up to the other Middle Eastern countries to seek to persuade Iran to attend, he added.
Scheduling the conference is another issue. "Fundamental political shifts” that began with the Arab Spring last year have produced a Middle East significantly changed from the time of the May 2010 NPT conference, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman told the preparatory meeting on May 8. Those developments “will be a factor in determining how to move forward … in a manner that is most conducive to a constructive dialogue and positive outcome,” according to the official.
Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov, though, said it would be "quite acceptable" for the conference to occur in December.
“We consider it utterly erratic and counterproductive to raise the idea that it is worth[while] to postpone the conference until the total stabilization of the situation in the Middle East and creation of the ‘necessary political conditions’ first,” he said.
While Washington is "not walking away" from its pledges on the matter, the unidentified U.S. official said, "I don't see the regional states taking the steps that need to be taken" for the event to occur this year.
Delaying the conference past the schedule set by the NPT states two years ago would be "sending the wrong message," the Persian Gulf nation official said.
“We realize that (establishing a WMD-free zone) is not a simple process,” the source said. However, “some initial steps” are required to push to “the ultimate goal,” which is “why we insist on having (the conference) in 2012,” he said.
Creating a ban on weapons of mass destruction has been a key issue in past NPT review conferences, the official noted. London, Moscow and Washington successfully submitted a resolution to the 1995 event on such a prohibition; nations at the 2010 conference called for "full implementation" of that proposal.
The "fragile consensus" on the treaty "might not hold for long" if the issue remains in limbo, according to the Gulf source (Daniel Horner, Arms Control Today, June 2012).
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