Finland has been selected to host a landmark meeting next year that is intended to promote the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, the Associated Press reported on Friday (see GSN, Sept. 7).
A joint statement from Russia, the United Kingdom, the United Nations and the United States, announced that longtime Finnish envoy Jaakko Laajava would act as the "facilitator" of the conference. In that role, the senior Finnish Foreign Ministry official would be responsible for organizing the event and for advance discussions with hoped-for participants Israel, Iran and the Arab states.
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty member states by unanimous agreement in 2010 called organizing a conference in 2012 on banning all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and their modes of delivery in the Middle East. Several nations in the region are suspected of possessing or seeking WMD-related assets or remain outside the nuclear, biological or chemical nonproliferation regimes.
Middle Eastern states have routinely called out Israel over its widely assumed nuclear arsenal. Jerusalem, however, has said it would not agree to any ban on unconventional weapons until a lasting Arab-Israeli peace is achieved.
Among the questions to be answered regarding the conference are whether Israel will attend and whether the event would actually initiate talks on a WMD-free zone pact.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was possible to see a Middle East where the presence, production and use of all weapons of mass destruction was outlawed. Such a future "is vital to the long term peace and security of the region," he said.
"But it will not happen overnight nor without the commitment and support of all states in the region," Hague said. "I hope that the conference will be an opportunity for the region to discuss and make progress on this."
As co-sponsors of a 1995 call for a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone, Washington, Moscow, London and the United Nations consulted with "the states of the region" prior to settling on Finland as the host nation.
Previous reports said the WMD conference could take place in March or April.
U.N. head Ban Ki-moon on Thursday held closed-door conversations on next year's meeting with representatives from Syria, which chairs the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; the Arab League; Egypt, which leads the 116-member Nonaligned Movement; and Algeria (Associated Press/Washington Post, Oct. 14).
There presently exist five regional bans on nuclear weapons. They cover Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, according to a U.N. press release (United Nations release, Oct. 14).