The second annual conference on a weapons of mass destruction (WMD)-free zone in the Middle East has been postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. The session was scheduled to be held in New York on Nov. 16–20.
Mikhail Ulyanov, Russian ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted the announcement Oct. 3. The conference was planned as a follow-on to the inaugural session that met in November 2019, when participating states adopted a political declaration codifying their commitment to establishing a WMD-free zone in the region. (See ACT, March 2020.)
The idea for the conference originated in 2018 when Egypt introduced a resolution to the UN General Assembly that called for convening an annual conference to make progress on the zone. The UN resolution adopted in 2018 mandated that states convene for an annual independent conference devoted to the Middle Eastern zone on an annual basis until that zone is achieved.
The United States has not commented publicly on the conference since its postponement was announced, but it did not participate in the 2019 session. Christopher Ford, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, wrote in an Aug. 4, 2020, essay that “it is too early to tell what damage the new conference will do—already it has already done some.” He cited a Trump administration view that the WMD-free zone conference will not advance substantive discussions or constructive engagement because it fails to account for the perspectives of all states in the region, particularly Israel.
Jeffrey Eberhardt, U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, told Arms Control Today in a February 2020 interview that the United States “support[s] the establishment of such a zone if it is freely arrived at among the parties in the region.”
The prospective zone will also be subject to contentious debate at the next nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, which was scheduled to be held in April 2020 but postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic.—JULIA MASTERSON