The US must explain its postponement of a crucial NPT conference

Precious time has been lost in working for a stable regime in the Middle East that rids the region of all weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Mahmoud Karem
5 January 2013

On November 23, 2012 the US announced that the agreed to conference on a Middle East Zone Free from Weapons of Mass destruction (MEWMDFZ), cannot be convened.   This came as a serious blow to collective efforts exerted by many state parties including an appointed Finnish facilitator for the conference, efforts by international organizations such as the OPCW and the IAEA, as well as civil society, to implement a special decision taken during the NPT review conference of the NPT in 2010.  Since the US decision to postpone the conference came only a few weeks before the convening of the conference on December 18, 2012, sabotaging all preparations and pre-conference negotiations, the bitterness felt had ripple effects in the Arab world. "We were all sold out", said an Arab colleague. All those who approved the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995, he added, as part of a package with a specific resolution on the Middle East, should be blamed for believing that the depositories of the NPT would deliver on their commitments.  This particular remark caused severe pain to those who were part of that decision in 1995, myself included.

If policies shall always focus on Israel's security first, and if the reason for postponing the conference shall be "present conditions", as Mrs. Nuland announced, without identifying what we really mean by such conditions and what we have done in terms of practical measures to bridge the gap of security in the middle east,  and if we focus only on Iran and neglect older problems and reasons for nuclear proliferation in the region, then arab public opinion will lose confidence, and the legitimacy of agreements carefully worked out, will prove questionable in the near future.  International efforts command the cooperation from all regional parties. Regrettably the aftermath of the US statement postponing the conference last November as a fait accompli, will wreck such efforts as we move on the Iranian file.

In the 1960's, Israel argued that it was surrounded by a sea of hostile Arabs with a superior combined collective conventional force.  Today a similar conviction is advanced alluding to the hostile rise of political Islam and new "belligerent" regimes in the region.  Previously and in this vein, the region lost precious years to achieve security and stability because some believed in such statements.  What should have happened instead was to work on equal peace and security for all, a stable regime that rids the region of all weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems, as well as assigning specific safeguard and inspection procedures to rigorous cooperative security measures, including international arms control and non proliferation agencies.

Today the Arab world should consider sending strong messages as a result of that US decision of postponement, which came as a surprise to most parties since it was taken without prior consultation with Arab so called "US regional partners".   Boycotting the Second Preparatory Committee of the NPT next spring in Geneva may be a viable alternative.  More so numerous arms control and arab non proliferation specialists, considered NPT friendly before, are now advocating withdrawal from the NPT Treaty in accordance with article X, since extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, "have jeopardized the supreme interests", of their countries.

This means that the US should move quickly. A new date for the convening of the (MEWMDFZ), Conference should be announced to dissipate Arab fears.  A special US envoy should travel to the region to explain the reasons for the November decision and assure the parties that the US will continue to work seriously with its partners "to create conditions for a meaningful conference", as the US statement mentioned.  The envoy should carry a written and reassuring message from the new US Secretary of State.  A special meeting between the US special envoy and the Arab Leagues' special group of high officials on disarmament in Cairo is necessary.  The US should also respond to the statement issued by the civil society meeting held in Helsinki on November 14-15 2012. What we need right now is intensive preventive diplomacy and US containment efforts before spring, time for the convening of the Second REVCON of the NPT. 

In conclusion the matter between Israel and the Arab world on Dimona, an unsafeguarded Israeli nuclear installation in the Middle East, which led to the illicit production of hundreds of nuclear weapons, should not become a matter between the Arab world and the US.  The US must place before all parties, including the Israelis, a clear proactive road map for the return to the Helsinki process.

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