U.S. consultations with Russia, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and other key parties to identify a facilitator and a host country for the planned 2012 conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East are under way, a Department of State official said in a Nov. 17 interview.
“Since the facilitator must have the trust of all the countries in the region, including Israel, and the international clout to bring all parties together, the selection is an important issue that is being carefully considered,” he said. “There is no timeline at this point,” he added.
The 2012 conference was one of the key steps endorsed by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May. (See ACT, June 2010.) It marked the first time that NPT parties had been able to adopt concrete measures on implementing a 1995 resolution on the subject.
Another U.S. official, Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation Susan Burk, said the 2012 conference “must draw the mandate from the region and operate by consensus of all countries concerned.” Burk, the Obama administration’s lead official at the NPT review conference, made the comments on the sidelines of a Nov. 18 forum in Washington.
In a Nov. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Sameh Aboul-Enein, Egypt’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, said that “Egypt intends to engage constructively with all concerned parties to implement the practical steps adopted.” Aboul-Enein, who was part of the Egyptian delegation at the review conference, added that “the road ahead is not easy but it’s the only way forward.”
Burk and Aboul-Enein attended an Oct. 25 conference organized by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies on the Middle East WMD-free zone.
It remains unclear what the agenda items of the proposed 2012 conference will be, but according to a U.S. statement at the UN General Assembly First Committee in October, “[H]olding this conference will also require agreement to discuss a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction.” The United States already has begun to work with others to advance this agenda, the statement added.
The statement came after the United States voted against an Arab League draft resolution on “The Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East,” which focused on Israel.
Israel, which has said that it supports the long-term vision of a WMD-free zone in the region, has conditioned forward movement on that objective with the existence of durable peace in the region and other states’ compliance with arms control and nonproliferation obligations. “[T]he basic prerequisites for reaching that vision do not exist,” Eyal Propper, director of the Arms Control Department at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the First Committee this October.
The 2012 “conference cannot be an event used to ramp up pressure on Israel,” the State Department official said.