Meeting on Middle East WMD Postponed
Davenport, Kelsey, Horner, Daniel, Arms Control Today
A conference scheduled for December on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East is being postponed, the conveners said late last month in separate statements that suggested disagreement among them on when the conference could take place and why it was postponed.
At the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were designated as the organizers of a 2012 conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. The decision to hold the conference was critical to the NPT parties' agreement on their meeting's final document. (See ACT, June 2010.)
The meeting on the WMD-free zone later was scheduled for this December in Helsinki, with Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava as conference facilitator.
The U.S. statement on the postponement, issued Nov. 23 by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, said that the United States remains committed to convening the conference, but gave no timeline for a rescheduled meeting. In a Nov. 27 interview, a State Department official said that the United States would like to see it held "as soon as possible" but that timing is not the reason for the postponement.
The obstacle is disagreement among states in the region on the broad, underlying "core issues," such as the agenda and "modalities" of the conference, he said. To move forward, the states must "engage each other" to reach an agreement on these "fundamental differences," he said. Nuland's statement also cited "present conditions in the Middle East" as a reason for postponement.
Statements issued Nov. 24 by the United Kingdom and Russia, however, both called for the conference to be held in 2013, with Russia specifying that a new date no later than April should be "fixed right now." In his statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was looking for the conference to take place "at the earliest opportunity in 2013."
Russia also said in its statement that the "organizational modalities and substance" of the conference are at an "advanced stage." The statement indicated that the meeting was postponed because not all of the states in the region had agreed to participate. "[S]everal extra months would be enough for proper preparation," the statement said.
Acknowledging the differences between the U.S. and Russian statements, the U.S. official said, "I don't share [the Russians'] optimism."
In a Nov. 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Russian diplomat said his government had "insisted [on] fulfilling the mandate" from 2010 to hold the conference in 2012. "Other conveners had the same understanding" and worked to achieve that goal, he said. But under the current circumstances, "[a]lthough our position remains unchanged, we feel that the conference may be postponed upon request from regional countries," he said.
Officials and analysts from many countries have said that attendance by Iran and Israel is crucial for the conference.
Israel has not publicly committed to attending the meeting. Iran announced on Nov. 6 that it would participate, but it is unclear if the decision to postpone the meeting already had been made at that point.
Some observers have speculated that Iran might have made the announcement knowing that the meeting would not be held so that it could lay blame for the postponement on Israel. The State Department official described the Iranian announcement as a "calculated decision."
He said the decision on whether to delay the conference was an "evolving discussion," and that, in late October and early November, it started becoming clear that the meeting could not take place in December. …