Exclusive: UN official expresses confidence that Israel will ratify nuclear treaty

Lassina Zerbo: I hope to demonstrate that the CTBT is a sound framework to foster international and regional security cooperation.

April 13, 2015 08:17
4 minute read.

The United Nations in Geneva . (photo credit: REUTERS)

“I believe that eventually Israel will ratify the [Nuclear- Test-Ban] treaty,” Dr. Lassina Zerbo said in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.

Zerbo, the executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, or CTBTO, is leading an international delegation visiting Israel this week. He will meet with Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, director-general of Israel Atomic Energy Commission Dr. Shaul Horev and other officials.

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CTBTO is a UN watchdog in charge of monitoring nuclear tests, which the international treaty seeks to ban. The treaty has not entered into force due to the non-ratification of eight states – China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the treaty; India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.

The purpose of Zerbo’s visit is two-fold. One is to participate in an international gathering to evaluate and draw lessons from recent on-site field exercise held in Jordan. Senior Israeli officials participated in the exercise, which tested the preparedness of the equipment used by CTBTO to monitor nuclear tests. Among the participants in the Israeli gathering are delegates from Egypt and Jordan.

The second aim of Zerbo’s visit is to persuade Israel to ratify the treaty. Zerbo is a geophysicist by education from the West African nation of Burkina Faso. During his visit he will meet with Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz and other Israeli officials.

Dr. Zerbo, how do define the purpose of the visit?

I will be in visiting Israel for a number of high-level meetings. During the visit I will open the high-level segment of an international workshop to review and analyze the major on-site inspection exercise that the CTBTO conducted in Jordan from November 3 to December 9 last year, as part of the build-up of its verification regime. The workshop is being held in Ramat Gan from 12 to 16 April 2015, with the participation of around 100 experts from 30 countries.

What are your expectations of the visit?

I have high hopes for my visit and the meetings. Overall I hope to demonstrate that the CTBT is a sound framework to foster international and regional security cooperation.

This visit is also a continuation of my discussions with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz, in March 2014. At that time, we also discussed Israel’s ratification of the treaty.

What makes you believe that maybe this time Israel will ratify the CTBT?

My impression from the discussions during my visit in March 2014 was that Israel’s ratification is not a matter of “if,” but rather “when.” While I don’t expect the ratification to happen overnight, I do believe it will happen. Together with our member states, I will work tirelessly to create the necessary confidence for Israel to ratify it. In other words, we are working to address the issues that Israel regards as obstacles to ratifying the CTBT.

What is the importance of Israel ratifying the treaty?

Since the adoption of the CTBT in 1996, nuclear testing has virtually stopped. Although the treaty has established a strong political norm, it has yet to come into legal effect. For that to happen, the remaining eight of a list of 44 specific countries defined in the treaty as nuclear technology holders must ratify: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. As one of these eight states, Israel’s ratification is vital to bringing the treaty into force.

There are hundreds of monitoring stations in the world linked to the Vienna headquarters of the CTBTO that are ready to monitor, identify and evaluate nuclear tests. Israel is home to two such stations and one laboratory in the small nuclear research reactor at Sorek, 20 km. south of Tel Aviv.

The CTBTO stations were the first ones to trace and identify North Korean nuclear tests nearly 10 years ago. However, it appears unlikely that Israel will ratify the CTBT anytime soon.

The Israel Atomic Energy Commission spokeswoman sent this statement to the Post:

“The question of ratifying the treaty will be determined in Israel as a result of regional developments. What we see are lack of compliance to international treaties by states in the region [nuclear and chemical treaties - Y.M.] and the recent use of chemical weapons by Syria. Israel will decide on this matter according to its interests. Israel is concerned by the refusal of key states in the region – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran – to operate on their soil monitoring stations as it was decided by the CTBTO.”

Yossi Melman is an Israeli journalist and writer who specializes in security and intelligence affairs.  He is co-author of 
Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars. His blog is www.israelspy.com.

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