By J C Suresh
Negotiations for a proposed conference on ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction would be difficult and the path would be long, but the “prize” – the security of the region and the world – would be worth the time and effort, the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA’s) First Committee dealing with Disarmament and International Security has been told.
Addressing the UN General Assembly on October 16, 2012, Ireland’s Jim Kelly, said the conference, which was planned for December in Helsinki and part of the action plan agreed at the 2010 review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), was an opportunity for meaningful discussion on establishing such a zone in that tense region, and he urged all States of the region to attend and to engage constructively with each other.
Eshagh Al Habib of Iran, which has been under fire for allegedly working on nuclear weapons, said its representative, had proposed the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East in 1974, but efforts to establish it, he said, had not yet succeeded, owing to the persistent refusal of “the Zionist regime” to join the NPT as a “non-nuclear-weapon party” and place its concealed nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
The best way to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons, he said, was “full and non-selective implementation” of the NPT, in particular in his region, where the clandestine nuclear weapons programme of the only non-NPT party in the region seriously threatened regional and international peace and security.
After seven decades of constant calls for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, he said, nations had lost their patience. The nuclear-weapon States should “stop the rhetoric […] and start adopting practical measures to fulfil their obligations”, he said.
Syria’s Bashar Ja’Afari similarly expressed deep concern that the NPT reviews had failed to draw a timeline for the nuclear-armed States to get rid of their nuclear arsenals. He urged the international community to work diligently to implement the 2010 NPT Action Plan, particularly the agreement to convene the 2012 Conference on the Middle East zone.
Nuclear-weapon States were arming Israel and providing it with the technologies needed to manufacture such weapons, he said. International silence towards Israel, which had allowed it to openly declare nuclear weapons possession and the threat of their use, was indicative that some countries were conspiring with Israel and protecting it, thereby endangering the NPT’s credibility.
‘Israel never challenged the non-proliferation regime’
The region, said Israel’s representative Ron Prosor, was undergoing historic changes, and the current turmoil in the Arab world was a clear example of its fragility. Israel had never challenged the non-proliferation regime, but there were other countries in the Middle East that were not members of other non-proliferation treaties. The Syrian chemical weapons threat remained extremely worrying, he said.
Although Israel had substantive reservations regarding certain elements of the resolution establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, it supported “the annual endorsement of that visionary goal”, he said. In stark contrast to that spirit of cooperation, the Arab League was tabling a second resolution, titled ‘Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East’. That was a contentious text, which sought to divert attention from the activities of some regional States, such as Iran and Syria; those activities constituted flagrant violations of international obligations.
Tabling the resolution constituted an annual declaration by its sponsors that they preferred to continue trying to alienate and isolate Israel rather than engage it in a cooperative manner. The decision to add a paragraph on the 2012 regional conference raised profound questions about the real motivation of the Arab States with regard to that idea. Belligerent resolutions did not result in progress, and he called on Member States to vote against the draft.
He said it was no coincidence that four out of five major violations of NPT had occurred in the Middle East – Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran – while the fifth case, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, had been involved in nuclear proliferation to the Middle East. Iran and Syria were under continuous investigation by IAEA, and Syria had not yet declared the nuclear fuel destined for the nuclear reactor built by the ‘DPRK’ at the Deir al Zour site.
One of the most central threats in the Middle East today was Iran’s hostile policies, its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the aggressive development of missile technology and its support of terrorist groups. It was clear that without halting the Iranian military nuclear programme, it would be very difficult to promote an international or regional non-proliferation agenda.
Iran ‘stonewalling’ IAEA
The Canadian delegate Elissa Golberg said it must be decided in 2012 whether to take the steps required to addressing the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and contribute to their eventual elimination. The alternative was to sit idly by as the disarmament machinery continued to fall into irrelevancy.
He called on Iran, Syria and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply fully with their NPT obligations, stressing that Iran’s continued illegal enrichment of nuclear material and non-cooperation with IAEA inspectors had a profoundly destabilizing effect on the region and international security. Furthermore, its “stonewalling” of IAEA demands and blatant sanitization of suspect sites underscored Canada’s belief that Iran continued to develop nuclear weapon capabilities. A nuclear Iran would embolden an already reckless regime in an already fragile region.
Also speaking during the general debate were the representatives of Ethiopia, Bahrain, Timor-Leste, Niger, Nepal, Tajikistan, Kuwait, Georgia, Morocco and Gabon.
A representative from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Véronique Christory, in a statement said that while discussion on nuclear disarmament had for decades focused primarily on military doctrine, there was now a growing understanding of the catastrophic consequences of those weapons for public health, human safety and the environment.
ICRC had focused on raising awareness of the incalculable human cost of using nuclear weapons ever since it assisted the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945. She called on all States to ensure that those weapons were never used again and to pursue negotiations to prohibit and eliminate those weapons through a legally binding international instrument.