Concrete steps needed towards 2012 conference on WMD-free zone in the Middle East

One year ago, on May 28, 2010, the signatory states of the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreed in New York to convene a 2012 conference on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East (ME).

It was a landmark consensus decision that saved the month-long NPT Review Conference from failure. It had far-reaching consequences, as the participants who are expected to attend the talks from a region marked by hostility would include arch-enemies Iran and nuclear-armed Israel. However, since that time, not a single concrete step has been taken to convene the conference in line with the Review Conference’s final document, which laid down exactly what had to be done and by whom.

Under the terms of the document, the co-sponsors of the original 1995 resolution calling for the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the ME – meaning the US, UK and Russia – and the UN secretary-general are to appoint a facilitator and host government for the 2012 conference in consultation with the states of the region.

Unfortunately, while the consultations about a possible venue and facilitator are now finally underway in earnest, no decision about either has yet been announced. In seven months time it will be 2012 – an election year in the US, Iran and Russia – and no date for the conference has been set. Of course the Arab Spring is in full flow, and there have been suggestions that the 2012 event might be delayed as a result. However there is no mechanism for delay in the final document and so far none of the states in the region have broached that possibility.

The event would be a strange beast as it would not be held under the auspices of the NPT – because Israel is not a member – and is not a UN conference. It might be more appropriate to compare it to the 1991 Madrid peace conference which brought Israel into a meeting with its neighbours with which it did not have diplomatic relations, including Syria.

If Iran and Israel were both to attend the proposed 2012 conference, it would be the first time the two states had sent representatives to discuss their mutual security in a formal setting. As such, the 2012 conference is worthy of support, particularly if it launches a process  of discussions on reducing the risks of nuclear, bio or chemical warfare in the region.

But for that to happen, concrete steps are needed now by the conveners in cooperation with the states of the region. It took James Baker, the then US secretary of state, seven months to organize the Madrid conference. Time is running out for the organizers of 2012.

These are the personal views of the author.

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