NEW YORK – Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are considering a resolution that would pave the way for a nuclear-free Middle East and pressure Israel to sign the treaty as a non-weapon state.
In the closing days of the month-long NPT Review Conference at the UN, which ends Friday, a final draft document under consideration calls for a conference of Middle East states in 2012 to jump-start negotiations for a region free of weapons of mass destruction.
In reference to Israel, the draft “calls on all states in the Middle East that have not yet done so to accede to the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states so as to achieve its universality at an early date.”
Introduced by the president of the conference, Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, the draft could dramatically impact the outcome of the conference. It also would put Israel and Iran at the same table, even as Israel and Western allies push for sanctions against Iran. The draft does not address Western concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Since the start of the conference, Egypt and other Arab states have pushed for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, in accordance with a 1995 resolution that would ban weapons of mass destruction from the region.
The 1995 resolution puts the onus on Israel to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal and join the nonproliferation treaty as a non-weapon state.
The draft emphasizes the importance of that 1995 resolution, noting “little progress has been achieved” toward its implementation.
Israeli officials declined to discuss the matter.
But Israel has said it won’t sign the nonproliferation treaty until an Arab-Israeli peace deal is signed. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
earlier this month, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev said Israel’s accession was not the main issue, but rather a distraction from the Iranian threat.
“The global threat now, not only to Israel and not only to the Middle East, is the Iranian race to reach nuclear capabilities,” she said. “Once the Middle East will be an area where there will not be any threat to Israel... then we can re-discuss the NPT.”
In the waning days of the conference, the draft calls for appointing a UN special coordinator to prepare a conference of Middle East states. This “initial conference in 2012,” would “be attended by all states of the Middle East, leading to the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region.”
Another proposal in the draft calls on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene a high-level meeting to “agree on a roadmap for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons,” including proposed security assurances for non-weapon states and reinforced inspections.
The proposal could dramatically alter the outcome of the conference, which collapsed in 2005 without a final agreement. Any final document must be approved by all 189 nations that are party to the nonproliferation treaty.
It was not clear what position the United States would take, and Western diplomats said negotiations are still ongoing.
But at the outset of the conference, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US administration supported “practical” steps toward a weapons-free zone, but said the time was not right.
“Given the lack of a comprehensive regional peace and concerns about some countries’ compliance with NPT safeguards, the conditions for such a zone do not yet exist,” Clinton told reporters during a news conference at the UN. “But we are prepared to support practical measures for moving toward that objective.”
The draft acknowledges the regional peace process, and would have the
NPT conference reaffirm its endorsement of “the aims and objectives of
the Middle East peace process.”
Cabactulan’s draft puts pressure on India and Pakistan, as well, to
join the treaty and “to place all their nuclear facilities under
comprehensive [IAEA] safeguards without conditions and promptly.”
It also “strongly urges” North Korea to return to the treaty.
Meanwhile, the US and Egypt are reportedly working to reach an
agreement on some kind of regional nuclear ban. For the US, working
with Egypt and Arab countries is key to securing sanctions against
Iran. Initially, Egypt called for a conference next year focused on
eliminating nuclear arms from the Middle East; a counterproposal calls
for a similar parley in 2012-2013.