The five permanent members of the UN Security Council said they support a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, according to a unanimous statement circulated during a conference aimed at strengthening nonproliferation.
Without mentioning Israel by name, the group voiced support for the “full implementation” of a 1995 resolution intended to free the Middle East from nuclear arms. “We are committed to a full implemented of the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East and we support all ongoing efforts to this end,” the statement read. “We are ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the Review Conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction.”
The statement also stressed “serious concern” over the Iranian nuclear program and urged all countries to sign and adhere the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Three countries are not party to the NPT, including India, Pakistan and Israel, which is widely believed to possess a nuclear arsenal. “We urge those state that are not parties to the treaty to accede as non-nuclear-weapon states and pending accession to the NPT, to adhere to its terms,” the five countries wrote.
Coming on the third day of a month-long NPT review conference, the statement spoke to competing interests: The US came into the conference pushing for tough measures against Iran, while in speeches the Arab states have increasingly focused on Israel’s presumed nuclear arms and their desire for Israel to sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.
Even while signing the statement – along with China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom – US officials stressed, however, that current circumstances in the Middle East would not allow for the immediate implementation of the 1995 resolution. “Making progress on a Middle East free of WMD will become all the more difficult if Iran continues to raise concerns in the region and beyond about the nature of its nuclear program,” a US official said.
The US, one of the original sponsors of the 1995 resolution, said comprehensive regional peace is key to a WMD-free zone. “It is unlikely that this will occur before Iran demonstrates that it has come back into compliance with its NPT and IAEA safeguards obligations,” a US official said.
Ahead of the conference, Egypt – which chairs the 118-nation group of non-aligned nations – circulated a working paper calling for the implementation of the 1995 resolution. The proposal also called for a conference to take place next year, with Israel’s participation, focused on a treaty to eliminate nuclear arms in the region.
Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Maged Abdel Abdelaziz told the conference on Wednesday that the “accession of Israel as a non-nuclear weapon state” was key to strengthening the NPT, which is currently “undermined by double standards.”
Other Arab states echoed his sentiment.
Kuwait’s ambassador to the UN, Mansour Al Otaibi said Israel’s refusal to sign onto the NPT “impedes the implementation and the universality” of the treaty. He called on weapons states to withhold from Israel direct or indirect supplies that could be used to enhance its nuclear production. Further, the IAEA should suspend its cooperation with Israel in the nuclear field until Israel accedes to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. “This unique Israeli situation is a cause for concern, standing in the way of rendering the Middle East a nuclear-free zone,” he said.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari criticized explicit support, by some nuclear states, to Israeli military arsenals. “We are inquiring here whether its high time to specify a time frame for the implementation of that resolution or whether we will link it with the hope of achieving the universality of the treaty?” He said the conference must address certain questions, particularly whether parties to the NPT have decided to hold Israel accountable “given its overt refusal to apply any resolution calling upon it to accede to the NPT.”
On Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said given the lack of comprehensive regional peace, the conditions for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East “do not yet exist.” Speaking to reporters in New York, she said the US is prepared “to support practical measures for moving toward that objective.”
For the US, that has meant coming into the conference pushing hard
against Iran’s nuclear program.
In a television interview on
Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would
“definitely continue” its nuclear program. Appearing on ABC’s “Good
Morning America,” the Iranian leader said he is not concerned about a
possible Israeli military strike. “They’re not a factor. In our defense
doctrine, we don’t even count them,” he said. “They’re finished,” he
said, adding: “The Zionist regime can’t even manage Gaza, do they want
to get into a conflict with Iran?”
He also warned that sanctions
would sever any diplomatic channels with the US. “This is not something
that by threatening Iran or putting pressure on Iran will force Iran to
change its positions,” he said. “The first resolution passed against
Iran in the UN Security Council will mean that relations between Iran
and the United States will never be improved,” he added. “Paths to that
will be shut.”