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former IAEA Director-General

Egypt Protests Inaction on WMD Meeting
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Marcus Taylor and Kelsey Davenport

The Egyptian delegation walked out of a meeting of member states of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on April 29 to protest the failure to convene a conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, and an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said May 17 that other steps may follow.

In his April 29 statement explaining the walkout, Hisham Badr, who led the Egyptian delegation at the April 22-May 3 NPT meeting in Geneva, decried the “unacceptable and continuous failure” to schedule the conference on the WMD-free zone. Badr, Egyptian assistant foreign minister for international organizations and institutions, said Cairo is insisting that an “exact date” be set for convening the conference.

The Geneva meeting was the second of three preparatory sessions for the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

In a May 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said that continued delay in rescheduling the conference may cause Egypt to take further actions to “increase pressure” on the United States and other conveners, which may include a boycott of next year’s NPT meeting by “more members of the Arab League.”

At the 2010 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 the final document of the 2010 conference. (See ACT, June 2010.) Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava was later appointed as conference facilitator.

The 2012 meeting on the WMD-free zone was supposed to be held last December, but the conveners announced Nov. 23 that the conference would be postponed due to disagreements on “core issues” and “present conditions in the Middle East,” according to the U.S. statement. In making the announcement, the conveners did not set a deadline for rescheduling or holding the meeting. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Before the postponement was announced, every country in the region except for Israel had verbally committed to attending the meeting in Helsinki, although some observers said Iran may have committed to attending the conference only after learning that it would be postponed. (See ACT, March 2013.)

An Arab League ministerial statement released after the group’s Jan. 13 meeting said that the group would consider boycotting the Geneva preparatory meeting because of concern that the rescheduling of the conference on the WMD-free zone was not being taken seriously, according to several news reports.

The Egyptian official said there was an attempt to hold an informal meeting during the NPT conference to work on an agenda for the meeting on the WMD-free zone, but not all of the countries in the region agreed to attend.

A former member of the Israeli Knesset told Arms Control Today in a May 24 e-mail that Israel was unlikely to agree to attend any preliminary meeting without assurances that “core regional security issues” would be included on the agenda of the conference on the WMD-free zone. He said the Arab League’s “unreasonable insistence” that Israel could attend informal meetings on crafting an agenda only if it agreed to attend the conference was preventing more proactive Israeli participation.

He said that the Arab League is not taking Israel’s “unique security concerns” into account in its planning for discussions on the zone.

The Egyptian official stressed that the United States must play “a more proactive role” to ensure that all countries in the region agree to schedule and attend the conference. At the time of the postponement, the United States said it remained committed to holding a conference, but did not specify a time frame. Russia called for the conference to be held no later than April of this year.

Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said April 30 that he regretted the Egyptian decision to leave the NPT conference but that it does not affect the U.S. commitment to convening a conference on creating the zone.

Countryman, who led the U.S. delegation to the NPT preparatory meeting, added that “leadership must also come from states of the region.”

In his April 29 statement at the Geneva meeting, Laajava said that there is nothing preventing the rescheduling of the WMD-free-zone conference and that it can “be convened without delay.”

Laajava said that he had suggested that the conference should be “relatively brief” and should aim to reaffirm the “common objective of a WMD-free zone.” He said follow-up steps, such as regional cooperation and expert-level work on arms control issues, could then create a sustainable process for establishing the zone.

Posted: June 3, 2013