Stepping Towards Nuclear-Free Middle East


Nuclear Abolition News | IPS

JERUSALEM (IPS) - Representatives from over 65 organisations and countries convened in Amman, Jordan last week [Nov 29-Dec 1] in an effort to lay the groundwork for the United Nations’ goal of creating a Middle East without nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. [P] ARABIC | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | PORTUGUESE

"More than 11 specialised tracks were discussed throughout the meeting, (including) most importantly, the role of UN instruments in declaring the Middle East as a nuclear weapons free zone, the security implications of a (weapons of mass destruction free zone), prospects of establishing a nuclear fuel cycle, (and) nuclear security in the Middle East," explained Ayman Khalil, director of the Arab Institute for Security Studies (ACSIS), one of the conference organisers.

Called ‘Laying the Grounds for 2012: Opportunities for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Security’, the three-day conference highlighted challenges that persist in the lead-up to the UN’s 2012 conference on creating a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.

The May 2010 review meeting of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – which takes place every five years – called for this UN-sponsored conference. In October, it was announced that Finland would host the conference, and that Finish under secretary of state for foreign and security policy, Jaakko Laajava, would facilitate it.

"The meeting (in Amman) provided a forum for coordination and exchanging views amongst national, regional and international parties (and) highlighted challenges, requirements and prerequisites for active participation and engagement by all states of the region in the 2012 process," Khalil told IPS.

In 1995, the final statement of the NPT Review and Extension Conference called upon all states in the Middle East to build a region free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, and urged other states to promote nuclear non-proliferation.

"All States of the Middle East that have not yet done so, without exception, (must) accede to the (NPT) as soon as possible and to place their nuclear facilities under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards," the final statement read.

Signed into force in 1970, the NPT aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons technology, and further the goal of nuclear disarmament around the world. In all 190 parties are currently signatories to the Treaty, including the five official nuclear-weapons states: China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and the United States.

It is widely believed that Israel, which hasn’t signed the NPT, is also in possession of nuclear weapons. According to Khalil, this unwillingness to sign the NPT is the biggest obstacle to creating a nuclear-free Middle East.

"Despite the willingness of all states in the region to create a (nuclear weapons free zone) in the Middle East, the establishment of such a zone remains unachievable. The biggest obstacle, of course, is the non- commitment of some states to the Non-Proliferation Treaty," Khalil said.

"There exist a number of other challenges that make this objective quite challenging, namely the existence of an Arab-Israeli conflict, and the possession and development of nuclear programmes in the region," Khalil said.

In recent months, various governments placed sanctions on Iran after reports surfaced that the country was building up its nuclear weapons arsenal and capabilities, a charge that Iranian officials have consistently denied.

The situation has raised fears of a confrontation between Jerusalem and Tehran that could ignite the entire region. Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the world "to stop Iran's race to arm itself with a nuclear weapon before it is too late."

According to Khalil, however, "putting both Iran and Israel in the same basket may be a complicating factor," since Iran is a signatory to the NPT and has so far committed to IAEA inspections, while Israel is a non-signatory to the NPT and has so far maintained an ambiguous policy.

"Israeli non-conventional capabilities were addressed in the meeting (in Amman). Israel being the only state who has not signed the NPT and currently is acquiring nuclear weapons to achieve deterrence against modest conventional capabilities of its neighbors qualifies to the description of ‘undisciplined child’," Khalil said.

"Obviously if the 2012 process is to succeed, both Iran and Israel have to be active participants in the proposed meeting." [IPS - December 7, 2011]

Picture: View of the conference | Credit:


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