Middle East nuclear weapons free zone subject of panel discussion at the NPT Review Conference

Anne Penketh, BASIC Program Director, backed Egypt’s proposals for a Middle East international conference to work towards a Middle East nuclear weapons free zone at a side event on the margins of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

The May 21 event was hosted by Greenpeace whose Israeli representative, Sharon Dolev, described how she has been trying to raise awareness for nuclear disarmament in Israel, where discussion of that country’s presumed nuclear arsenal of up to 200 weapons remains taboo.

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Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and Anne Penketh of BASIC

The third speaker, Rebecca Johnson of Acronym, explained the background to the issue and in particular the difficulties in negotiating such a zone which was first proposed by Iran in 1974 before being championed by Egypt. No progress has been made since 1995 when the NPT Review Conference agreed to extend the Treaty indefinitely in return for agreement on a resolution on a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The three NPT depositary states, the US, Russia and UK, sponsored the resolution. A significant difficulty is the fact that Israel is not a member of the NPT and has said that there should be a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East before a nuclear free zone can be negotiated.

Anne Penketh pointed out that Israel’s position, which has been supported by the US, has prevented progress in negotiating the zone, and she called for the delinkage of the Middle East peace process from the arms control issue. She also argued that because Iran would be a member of the future zone, Israel should understand that its security could be enhanced by its establishment.

The panel, moderated by Rhianna Tyson Kreger of the Global Security Institute, was attended by about 50 people, including the ambassadors of Egypt – who is leading negotiations on the zone on behalf of the Arab Group with the nuclear weapons states – and Jordan, as well as US officials.

Video of the event:

Account by Reaching Critical Will, p. 13 of NPT News in Review:

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