US retreat can’t soften blow of Obama-backed NPT resolution

PM will seek clarification and reassurances during White House visit. It may be too late.

May 31, 2010 04:11
3 minute read.
US President Barack Obama

Obama harsh features. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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NEW YORK – Egypt came into the monthlong NPT conference swinging, and hit Israel square on the jaw. Worst of all, a sucker punch seemed to come from Israel’s longtime ally, the United States.

But although the US on Friday signed onto a 28-page final resolution singling out Israel and pressing it to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, backroom diplomacy – with an eye on Iran – forced America’s hand. Ultimately, the American signature reflects the US desire to reach an agreement on Iran; unlike his predecessor, President Obama’s diplomatic strategy favors international consensus, which failed at the last two NPT review conferences, held in 2005 and 2000.

“The greatest threat to proliferation in the Middle East and to the NPT is Iran’s failure to live up to its NPT obligations,” Obama said in a statement on Friday night. “Today’s efforts will only strengthen the NPT as a critical part of our efforts to ensure that all nations meet their NPT obligations or face consequences.”

Huddled at the United Nations during the month of May, American diplomats walked a narrow tightrope, seeking a tougher stance against Iran, even as Egypt and other Arab states pushed for the implementation of a 1995 resolution that would establish a nuclear-free Middle East.

Egypt came into the conference ready with a proposal to hold an international conference within the next year that would jump-start negotiations toward a weapons-free zone. The conference became a flashpoint and a deciding factor in the outcome of the NPT Review Conference.

“If we can’t get a deal on the Middle East in the next few days, the NPT review conference will probably collapse,” a Western diplomat told Reuters last week.

The cost of the American compromise? A declaration that pressures Israel to sign the NPT and open its nuclear facilities to inspection; appoints a special UN envoy on nuclear weapons in the Middle East; and establishes an international conference, albeit one two years from now, and not next year as the Egyptians wanted.

As if to soften the jab, American officials immediately retreated from their support for the resolution and appeared to soften their stance by setting conditions for the conference to take place. Indeed, the American statements raise the possibility that the conference may not happen at all.

In a statement on Friday night, US National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said he had “serious reservations” about the 2012 conference, and said Middle East peace and compliance with nonproliferation obligations “are essential precursors” to a nuclear-free Middle East. He defended Israel, calling the resolution’s failure to mention Iran “deplorable.”

Indeed, Jones said the United States “will insist that the conference operate only by consensus by the regional countries,” and that the US would ensure the conference takes place only “if and when all countries feel confident that they can attend.”

Obama, in his statement concerning the conference, reiterated that “comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment.”

But from Israel’s perspective, the final document is still a deep blow.

“This resolution is deeply flawed and hypocritical,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement. “It singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation. Yet the terrorist regime in Iran, which is racing to develop nuclear weapons and openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map, is not even mentioned in the resolution.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will visit the White House, seeking clarification and reassurances. It may be too late.

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