By Baher Kamal* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis
MADRID (IDN) – In spite of social, economic and political instability in Egypt and other Arab countries, Cairo has lastly intensified its efforts aimed at eliminating, as soon as possible, all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East.
Egyptian diplomacy fears that further delays in taking specific actions to declare the Middle East a nuclear free zone, may lead to a nuclear armament race in the region, in view warnings that some major countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, might decide to go nuclear to face Israeli and Iranian nuclear threat. | READ JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF
Against this backdrop, and in view of the ongoing process of preparations for the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review, Cairo has launched an intensive diplomatic campaign to gain further support for its recent, new initiative aimed at unlock the present impasse.
The Egyptian initiative calls on all Middle East countries as well as the five permanent members (P5) – United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France – of the Security Council to deposit official letters of engagement to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, endorsing the declaration of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
Formulated last year and endorsed by the 22 member countries of the Arab League in November 2013, the initiative also calls on “all those countries in the region who have not signed or ratified any of the international treaties on weapons of mass destruction, to commit themselves, before the end of the year, to sign and ratify all related treaties, simultaneously, and to deposit the confirmation of their commitment with the Security Council”.
Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, called on the UN Secretary General to coordinate the implementation of all these steps simultaneously, as a prerequisite for success – specifically, “Israel to join the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to ratify the UN Chemical Weapons Convention, and to sign and ratify the UN Biological Weapons Convention”.
The Egyptian initiative also urges Syria to ratify the UN Convention on Biological Weapons, and take the steps to which it has committed itself to implement the UN Chemical Weapons Convention as well.
In exchange, all Middle East countries are to commit themselves to the completion of all required procedures to ensure their accession to all international treaties aimed at banning weapons of mass destruction and related arrangements.
The plan includes Egypt’s ratification of the UN Biological Weapons Convention, and the signature and ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, while continuing international efforts to ensure the organisation this year of the international conference on nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which was decided by the May 2010 NPT review meeting, with the specific goal of declaring the Middle East a nuclear-free-zone.
The Egyptian initiative was once more endorsed by the League of Arab States during its meeting mid-February 2014 in Cairo, which focused on ways to mobilise the largest possible international support for it.
An Egyptian diplomatic source, which participated in the elaboration of the initiative, told IDN on condition of anonymity, that the initiative had received a “quasi deadly” hit due to the recent “suspension” of the Israeli-Palestinian-engineered talks.
“Nevertheless, and in spite of the feeble hope that Tel Aviv will implement the measures proposed by the Egyptian plan, the Arabs are determined to intensify efforts to warn against the dangers of not freeing the region from all weapons of mass destruction,” the source added.
The “dangers” the source referred to are related to a potential nuclear armament race in the region. In fact, former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, warned in 2011 that nuclear threats from Israel and Iran might force Saudi Arabia to follow suit.
On November 27, 2013, IPS reported that Saudi Arabia’s unyielding opposition to an interim nuclear agreement with Iran had triggered speculation about its own projection of military power in the Middle East.
The Wall Street Journal pointed out that the Saudis might conclude that international acceptance of a nuclear programme of any kind by Iran would compel them “to seek their own nuclear weapons capability through a simple purchase.” The likely source: Pakistan, whose nuclear programme was partly funded by the Saudis.
On November 22, 2013, the BBC reported quoting Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, that while efforts had gone into stopping the Iranian atomic programme, “it is clear that must also be expended to ensure that other nations in the Persian Gulf do not themselves develop a nuclear weapons capability”.
“The senator has asked the president to share the administration’s assessment of possible nuclear co-operation between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as well as to halt talks about US-Saudi co-operation on the transfer of nuclear technology,” according to BBC.
It added that “intelligence was circulating in Nato that Pakistani nuclear weapons made on behalf of Saudi Arabia were ready for delivery in the event that Iran crossed the nuclear threshold or the kingdom faced some other dire emergency.”
UN Adopt Two Egyptian Resolutions
Fresh impulses were imparted to the Egyptian plan thanks due to the approval of two Egyptian draft resolutions, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly mid-December 2013.
The first resolution is related to the creation of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. The second relates to “the threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.”
The process for the establishment of a nuclear-free-zone in the Middle East has suffered successive delays. As the international conference to free the region from nukes, which was scheduled to take place in December 2012 in Finland, was postponed once more.
Key parties to the organisation of such a conference (the UN, USA, UK and Russia) announced in mid-2013 a new postponement of the conference “sine die”, alleging it was due to tensions in the region.
Reacting to this announcement, the League of Arab States issued a statement rejecting the postponement of the conference and its declared reasons, noting it is all about a new attempt “to protect Israel’s nuclear arsenal”.
In spite of its reiterated refusal to announce any official position about its nuclear arsenal, there is a wide international consensus, joined by the prestigious Stockholm Institute for Peace Research (SIPRI), that Israel is one of the nine nuclear powers, including the P5, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
In view of its intensive efforts, on May 22, 2014 Egypt was elected to chair the three-day sessions of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, with the participation of 65 Conference member States, including the P5.
Ambassador Walid Mahmoud Nasser, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations and other Geneva-based international organisations, in a statement on May 22, 2014, said that the Conference discussions were taking place within the framework of the international efforts to activate the role of the UN Conference on Disarmament, in order to launch negotiations for an international treaty to free the world from nuclear weapons.
The objective of the Conference is to find ways how to reach the appropriate legal framework and adopt practical measures for nuclear disarmament, according to the Egyptian ambassador.
He also explained that the Conference discussions dealt with the initially different viewpoints, of those who want to reach a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, and others calling to adopt a gradual process to complete the framework of an international treaty, starting by working on an agreement to stop the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
He added that the discussions touched upon the assessment of the current situation with respect to nuclear disarmament, and the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, as well as the role of the different parties, including the nuclear states, and the proposed initiatives in this regard.
The Geneva discussions also dealt with the extent of the link between nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, according to the Egyptian representative, who stressed the priority that Egypt attaches to nuclear disarmament, and to the launch of negotiations aimed at reaching a binding international treaty on nuclear disarmament, at the earliest opportunity.
Nasser expressed the hope that these discussions would lead to push the Conference out of its state of stalemate since 1996, and take concrete steps to develop a work program with respect to these issues. He underlined Egypt’s continuous efforts aimed at establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
The launch of an international Middle East conference was decided by the May 3-28, 2010 NPT Review conference in New York, following persistent pressures by Egypt, the original author of the Middle East nuclear free zone initiative since the late 60s- with the backing of all Arab countries, Turkey, and the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as some European nations, mostly Scandinavian.
Following intensive consultations, Finland announced its readiness to host the international conference, and Jaakko Laajava, the under-secretary of State in Finland’s foreign ministry, was appointed as facilitator of the conference which was expected to take place “broadly in 2012″.
While a WMD-free zone eludes the Middle East, other regions, including entire continents, are already living in nuclear free zones: Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; South-East Asia; Central Asia; and Africa. These count for 39 percent of the world population in 115 countries around the world.
*Baher Kamal is an Egyptian-born Spanish national with nearly 40 years of professional experience as a journalist. He is Publisher and Director of Human Wrongs Watch, Spain. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 9, 2014]
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Image credit: UNODA