The European Parliament passed a resolution Jan. 17 calling for a conference to be held in 2013 on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
The meeting was supposed to be held last December, but was postponed.
The resolution “deplores the postponement” of the meeting and urges the conveners and the member countries of the European Union to ensure that the conference takes place “as soon as possible in 2013.” The resolution said that key elements of the zone should include compliance by all countries in the region with comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, including adherence to an additional protocol that gives the agency greater latitude to carry out inspections; a ban on fissile material production for weapons; and accession by all states in the region to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The commitment to hold the 2012 meeting was a key part of the final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. (See ACT, June 2010.) Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were named the conveners of the conference; Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava later was chosen as the facilitator.
The meeting was scheduled for December in Helsinki, but the conveners announced Nov. 23 that the conference would be postponed due to disagreements on “core issues” and to “present conditions in the Middle East,” according to the U.S. statement. At the time of postponement, no deadline was set for rescheduling or holding the meeting, although Russia called for it to be held as soon as possible in 2013.
Before the postponement announcement, all of the countries except Israel that are expected to be part of the proposed zone verbally committed to attending the meeting, although there were indications that Iran said it would attend only after learning that the conference would be postponed. (See ACT, December 2012.)
In a Jan. 22 statement to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Wafaa Bassim, the Egyptian representative to the CD, called on the co-conveners “to set, without further delay,” a date for the conference before the NPT preparatory committee meeting that is scheduled to be held in Geneva from April 22 to May 3.
According to news reports, the ministerial statement issued at the end of a Jan. 13 Arab League meeting in Cairo said that the group would consider boycotting the NPT preparatory meeting if action was not taken.
In a Feb. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official also called for action but without referring to the boycott. He said “steps should be taken” to encourage Israeli participation, but “not at the cost of further delay.” He also said the current domestic situation in Egypt made pushing for the conference “less of a priority issue” for the foreign ministry than it has been in the past.
The U.S. State Department did not respond by press time to a request for information on the steps the United States is taking to reschedule the conference, but Laura Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to the CD, said in a Jan. 22 statement that the United States stands by its commitment to hold a conference that is “meaningful” and “includes all states of the region.” The statement urged the states to “engage directly with each other to bridge conceptual differences.” The EU resolution also referenced the importance of all countries in the zone participating in the conference when it is convened.
Russia will continue to work actively toward convening a meeting, Alexey Borodavkin, Russia’s representative to the CD, said Jan. 22.