‘Haves and Have Nots’ Debate Best Way Forward to Negotiate Binding Treaty on Nuclear-Weapon-Free Middle East, as Landmark Conference Continues

Any legally binding treaty to create an atomic bomb free region will fail unless every State joins, delegates from both possessor and non possessor nations said today during the general debate of the first ever Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, with Israel and the United States absent from the discussions.

Calls for holding the landmark gathering began in 1995 at the Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and continued through 2018, when the General Assembly entrusted the Secretary General to convene the week long meeting, which began on 18 November, with the aim of elaborating such a treaty, and invite all States in the Middle East, the five nuclear weapon States and relevant international organizations.

Speaking next to Israel’s empty seat at the table, Iraq’s delegate said the Middle East is unique, given an ongoing arms race, ballooning military spending and the duration of the Arab Israeli conflict. By sticking to fallacious pretexts, Israel is encouraging others to seek weapons of mass destruction in pursuit of strategic balance. Before such a nuclear weapon free zone can be established, Israel must join the Non Proliferation Treaty, accept the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and declare and dismantle all of its weapons of mass destruction.

Lebanon’s representative said the absence of some countries from the Conference is not constructive, nor does it lead to solutions. Emphasizing that Israel’s nuclear policy is premised on the principle of deterrence, she quoted Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State of the United States, as saying that absolute security for one nation means absolute insecurity for all others.

Egypt’s delegate said the aim of the Conference is not to politicize issues, isolate any State or impose preconceived positions, but to negotiate a legally binding treaty.

Except for the United States, the invited nuclear weapon nations (China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom) participated, all noting with regret the absence of some delegations.

The Russian Federation’s representative, recalling that almost 25 years later a step has finally been taken towards creating such a zone, said the United States, in its absence, is failing its obligations as one of the three co sponsors of the 1995 Review Conference resolution. Expressing hope that Israel will join the next session of this annual conference, he highlighted the importance of an inclusive process that would constructively harness the experience of other similar zones already in operation.

Similarly, the United Kingdom’s delegate, noting that as a co sponsor of the 1995 resolution, her country remains committed to creating a Middle East zone, said progress depends on all States participating in the Conference’s work. Raising several concerns, she said Syria’s non compliance with IAEA safeguards is growing and Iran’s significant reductions in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on its nuclear programme is eroding the core non proliferation benefits of the deal. However, unless the continued lack of consensus about establishing a nuclear weapon free zone is resolved, it will impede the effectiveness of negotiations, she said, adding that for the process to be credible, the Conference must not be used to isolate one State.

France’s representative agreed that for the Conference to bear fruit, it must not point fingers at any one State, but rather build the conditions to create the trust required for consensus. Calling on Iran to resume full implementation of the Joint Plan of Action and to cease illicit weapons transfers to State and non State actors in the region, he also highlighted the indispensable work done by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). He called for innovative ideas to shape the contours of a Middle East zone free of all such weapons, including adherence to all non proliferation instruments, the adoption of concrete steps to prevent proliferation and to develop, with the IAEA, regional cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy.

China’s delegate, highlighting that his is the only country that has unequivocally and unconditionally committed itself to neither use nor threaten to use atomic bombs against non possessor nations, expressed hope that the United States will assume its due special responsibility as one of the signatories of the Non Proliferation Treaty and contribute to the Conference’s objective.

Echoing a common theme, the representative of the United Arab Emirates said the Conference represents an opportunity to forge regional understanding on the topic, adding that: Successful steps towards the establishment of such a zone shall indeed help build confidence and contribute positively to regional and international security.

At the same time, Iran’s delegate recalled that creating a zone in the region would be meaningless and ineffective if an entity that possesses all types of weapons of mass destruction does not join it. The United States and other nuclear weapon nations must offer an unconditional, non discriminatory, effective and irrevocable legal assurance against the threat or use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Like several other delegates, he said an efficient verification system will be essential.

Meanwhile, Syria’s representative said that Israel and the United States are betting on the failure of this conference. By not participating, they confirm they are not committed to the objective of establishing such a zone in the Middle East. The United States shows enthusiasm for non proliferation all over the world, yet when it comes to Israel, it remains silent, showing its opportunistic position on this matter.

An observer for the State of Palestine said the Conference is a success, being the first step to negotiate a legally binding treaty and eventually consolidate international peace and security. Indeed, the presence of the majority of regional States is proof of their political will to establish such a zone. However, Israel’s absence is evidence of a State that possesses nuclear weapons and is persistent in its refusal to join the Non Proliferation Treaty and put its arsenal under IAEA safeguards. This constitutes a serious threat to peace and security, he said, calling on Member States to establish mechanisms to pressure Israel to join non proliferation and disarmament conventions.

The representative of Morocco said the main obstacles to ensuring a complete prohibition of nuclear weapons are insufficient efforts and the absence of key actors in negotiating legally binding instruments. Given the critical role played by nuclear weapon free zones, establishing such a zone in the Middle East is an urgent priority which will contribute for a lasting peace in the region, he said, also cautioning against the dangers of weapons of mass destruction falling in the hands of non State actors.

Emphasizing the right of all States to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, Bahrain’s representative said many countries have concerns about the safety and security of nuclear plants on the borders of their neighbours. The proposed treaty must allow States to develop peaceful nuclear programmes � under IAEA safeguards � to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Agreeing, Yemen’s delegate said: This right must not be politically restricted.

Pointing out the risks of some other types of weapons of mass destruction, a representative of the Office for Disarmament Affairs delivered a statement on behalf of the Deputy Chief of the Implementation Support Unit of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction. Not only are biological weapons relatively easy to develop, transfer and conceal, but there is a growing risk that they can be obtained and used by terrorist groups, he said, noting that three States in the region � Egypt, Somalia and Syria � have signed but not ratified the instrument while another three � Comoros, Djibouti and Israel � have neither signed nor ratified it.

Becoming a party to the Convention is a step all States can take to help reduce the threat of bioterrorism, he said, adding that the instrument is also key to promoting global health security and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, Syria’s representative said the use of chemical weapons in his country was masterminded by the United Kingdom and United States. If the United Kingdom has information to share on the topic, it should put it forward in The Hague and not draw attention away from the Conference’s objective. He added that 90 per cent of the reason for the deplorable situation in the Middle East can be attributed to France, which provided Israel with the Dimona nuclear reactor.

The representative of Iran said his country’s missile capability is defensive and not designed to carry nuclear weapons. He added that France helped Israel acquire nuclear weapons, and that France and the United Kingdom are failing to comply with the Joint Plan of Action. It will not be constructive if those two countries keep making irrelevant statements, he said.

The representative of the Russian Federation disagreed that Israel is being singled out at the Conference. Rather, it is Israel that is isolating itself. He added that the concept of arrangements freely arrived at with regard to establishing nuclear weapon free zones does not pertain to procedural matters.

The Conference President, the representative of Jordan, said the door is open to everyone invited to participate.

Also participating in the debate were representatives of Algeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The Conference will reconvene on Wednesday, 20 November, at 10 a.m. to continue its work.

Source: United Nations