The EU and the Middle East WMD Free Zone

Tomorrow and on Thursday this week, the European Union has an opportunity to influence the preparations for a conference on a Middle East WMD-free zone.

The EU has a legitimate role in the Middle East as a member of the Quartet, alongside the US, UN and Russia, which remains the international mediator on the peace process. Over the years, it has used its soft power to bankroll the Palestinian Authority and build up Palestinian institutions. It is also linked to the region through the Euro-Med partnership. This week the EU will make good on its promise, recognised in the final document of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, to host a follow-on seminar to one held in June 2008 on the establishment of a Middle East WMD-free zone. The NPT states parties decided that a conference on establishing such a zone would be held in 2012. If it were to take place, it would be the first such conference at which Israel – which has an unacknowledged nuclear weapons arsenal but which is not an NPT member  – and its arch enemy Iran would sit at the same table to discuss their mutual security. Unfortunately, the EU seminar is being held before the appointment of a host government and facilitator for next year’s conference, which could have meant more productive conversations in Brussels. But the seminar is still an important milestone along the road to 2012, as it is expected to bring together the major players for substantive discussions which will signal whether they are serious about taking part in the 2012 conference. The US, UK, and Russia, working with the UN secretary-general, are the principal conveners of the conference. The field of possible facilitators and host governments has now been narrowed to three candidates – Finland, the Netherlands and Canada – which are being submitted to the region for consideration. The conveners patted themselves on the back at a meeting of the “P5” permanent members of the UN Security Council in Paris last week. “The P5 welcomed the steps taken by the US, Russia and UK towards holding a conference on a Middle East WMD free zone in 2012,” the group said in a statement issued at the end of their session on Friday. It is to be hoped that the declaration in Paris is a sign that the conveners’ political will is strong enough to shepherd this process to a successful conclusion in 2012. The EU, with a legitimate stake in the outcome, should make sure that the pressure is kept up to ensure that the facilitator and host government are named as soon as possible.

These are the personal views of the author.

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