'squandered' By Jillian
JERUSALEM - After the
cancellation of an international conference to
create a nuclear-free Middle East, leading experts
have warned that an important opportunity to
create stability in the region has been
"The 2012 meeting in Helsinki
was a precedent. For the first time, the important
decision (was taken) of convening a special
meeting to study the requirements of a
weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the
Middle East," Ayman Khalil, director of the
Amman-based Arab Institute for Security Studies,
told IPS. "That in and of itself was an important
decision and a milestone. Sadly, this didn't
The conference on building a
nuclear-free Middle East was set to take place in
December in Finland, sponsored by the United
Nations and backed by
Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
United States State Department
spokesperson Victoria Nuland stated that the
conference was cancelled due to "a deep conceptual
gap [that] persists in the region on approaches
towards regional security and arms control
arrangements", and because "states in the region
have not reached agreement on acceptable
conditions" for the meeting.
is now expected to be held in early 2013.
According to the Egyptian Council for
Foreign Affairs (ECFA), holding the conference was
especially important at this time given "Iran's
non-response to the requirements of the
International Atomic Energy Agency on one hand,
and Israel's threat to launch a military attack on
Iran on the other hand".
The ECFA stated
that the Arab Forum for Non-Proliferation would
hold a meeting December 12 in Cairo to discuss how
to get the process re-started. "Making the Middle
East free of mass destruction weapons will create
the appropriate environment for regional stability
and security in the region," it stated.
The decision to hold a special conference
on the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East was
made during a 2010 review meeting of states that
are party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Signed into force in 1970, the NPT
aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and
nuclear weapons technology, and further the goal
of nuclear disarmament around the world.
Currently, 190 parties have signed the treaty,
including the five official nuclear-weapons
states: China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France
and the United States.
There are currently
five nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world,
according to the UN: Latin America and the
Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia,
Central Asia, and Africa.
has long been believed to possess nuclear weapons
yet maintains a policy of "nuclear ambiguity", has
not signed the NPT. Many have said that the
decision to cancel the Helsinki conference may be
linked to Israeli fears that it would be singled
out for criticism.
According to Paul
Hirschson, deputy spokesman for the Israeli
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel was never
formally invited to the Helsinki conference and
therefore never agreed or disagreed to
"I think that we probably
agree with the Americans that the conditions
aren't right... I don't think we've really got
much to talk about anything," Hirschson told IPS.
"The subject's a nice subject, but what we're
really interested in is peace with the
Palestinians, diplomatic relations with the
Saudis; we've got a hundred things ahead of us
before we start devoting time to that."
Over the past year, Israel has publicly
voiced its opposition to Iran working to acquire
nuclear weapons, a charge that Iranian officials
have denied. Israeli leaders have gone so far as
to suggest that they might pre-emptively strike
Iranian nuclear facilities, causing diplomatic
tensions with its largest ally, the United States.
According to Ayman Khalil, however,
Israel's nuclear ambiguity remains the "elephant
in the room", and it, not a nuclear Iran,
constitutes the biggest obstacle to building a
nuclear-free Middle East.
in the region have basically signed the [nuclear]
non-proliferation treaty, including Iran. One
country, and one country alone, remains outside of
these arrangements, and that is Israel," Khalil
"Arabs wanted this meeting [in
Helsinki] to take place in good faith to reach an
acceptable arrangement with Israel. If this
meeting would have taken place as planned, it
would have been a massive confidence-building
measure between members of the region."