6 May 2008, No.6

Discussion of a Middle East NWFZ: Dialogue of the deaf
Ray Acheson | Reaching Critical Will

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On Monday, delegations finished delivering statements on cluster 2 and began discussing regional issues, including implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution. This always contentious and divisive issue has become even more of a political powder keg in the NPT context due to the recent accusations made by the US government about Syria’s alleged cooperation with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to construct a clandestine nuclear reactor that the US believes “was indeed not intended for peaceful purposes.”

During the PrepCom, other states have expressed concern about these allegations, including Australia, Canada, the European Union, France, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom. On Monday, the UK delegation said their government’s officials “found the evidence presented to be convincing,” and Canada’s Amb. Grinius called on both the DPRK and Syria “to cooperate fully with the IAEA to clarify the situation.”

These expressions of concern have prompted the Syrian delegation to exercise its right of reply several times throughout the PrepCom, including twice on Monday. He argued that these governments, which maintain silence about or even assist Israel’s nuclear programme, have no right to accuse Syria of violating its safeguards agreements or the NPT. He complained that Amb. Grinius didn’t even mention Israel or request that Israel accede to the NPT, concluding that Canada lacks credibility not just in the NPT but in all international fora. Iranian Amb. Soltanieh also complained that Canada “made a dangerous prescription” in its report on the Middle East nuclear weapon free zone to the PrepCom (see NPT/CONF.2010/PC.II/3), arguing that Canada’s proposal for states not party to the NPT in the Middle East to “separate civilian and military fuel cycles and to place all civilian nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards” as an interim confidence-building measure until they accede to the NPT.is an “irresponsible suggestion”. He insisted, “The countries in the region cannot accept anything less than the total and unconditional elimination of Israeli nuclear weapons and its facilities and its acceding to the NPT.”

Most delegations recognize the connection between the peace process in the Middle East and the establishment of a nuclear weapon free zone (NWFZ) in the region. However, almost all states take the position that one has to happen before the other, which Greenpeace International Political Advisor Merav Datan described as a “chicken or the egg” dilemma, in a event organized by Greenpeace on the experience of campaigning for disarmament in Israel (see page 6). On Monday, many Arab delegations argued that the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East would, as the Egyptian delegate said, “advance the prospects of overall peace in the region.” He also argued it would “represent a practical attestation that destructive arms and weapons would no longer remain the guarantor of security.” China’s delegate agreed it would advance the peace process in the Middle East, by helping create a political atmosphere of trust and conciliation.

As a fundamental step toward creating a Middle East NWFZ, many states repeated calls for Israel to join the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state and place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards. Yet others, particularly those from the West, refrained from mentioning Israel by name, simply calling on “all states in the region to accede to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state,” without mentioning that Israel is the only state who has not yet done so. These are often the same states that tend to emphasize the need for progress in the peace process as a precursor to the establishment of a NWFZ.

Meanwhile, Western delegations have increasingly called on Iran to cease uranium enrichment and other “proliferation sensitive” activities and to comply with relevant UN Security Council resolutions. During the PrepCom, the United States has even gone as far as to proclaim that non-nuclear armed Iran is single largest barrier to a MENWFZ, without any reference at all to nuclear-armed Israel. On Monday, the US delegation recommended that Iran follow Libya’s example and give up its nuclear programme, noting that it has been offered a “remarkably generous package of incentives that present the regime in Tehran with two choices”—“defiance and noncompliance ... isolation ... continuing and additional sanctions ... further stunted economic opportunities,” or “international reconciliation [and] the eventual restoration of international trust in its peaceful intentions.”

This “choice” offered by the US further undermines what Norway’s delegate described as the already “fragile consensus” on the Middle East. For example, a statement made by the UK delegation prompted right of replies from both the Russian and Chinese delegations, who criticized the UK representative for making political comments about the Iran situation on their behalf without their consent. In addition, the perception of double standards—or what Amb. Soltanieh referred to as “nuclear apartheid” in the Middle East—is a major source of tension during the NPT review cycles. These double standards contradict the fundamental bargain of the NPT itself and undermine the basis upon which the decision to indefinitely extend the Treaty was agreed to the Arab states and many other non-nuclear weapon states.

In response to these tensions, a few states appealed to reason and sincerity. Malaysia’s delegation called for “genuine dialogue,” while New Zealand’s representative argued that promises of the past need to be effectively implemented in good faith. Botswana’s delegation, noting that the situation requires leadership, flexibility, and compromise from the nuclear weapon states in particular, warned that the disarmament debate is in danger of turning out “to be a dialogue of the deaf with no end in sight.”

NGO observers often find the circuitous, repetitive nature of “discussions” of the NPT review cycle extremely frustrating, and are sometimes made to feel incapable of doing anything about it. Yet it is here where we and all of civil society should feel the most empowered to act creatively, to reject and resist our governments’ policies and actions that reinforce double standards, undermine consensus, or do not foster peace through genuine dialogue. In our own countries, we can stimulate and maintain a dialogue among citizens and between the people and their representatives. At the event mentioned above, representatives of Greenpeace spoke about their work in Israel, where a culture of fear can limit or even “prohibit” discussion about security and nuclear issues. They try to foster communication and understanding about their government’s official policies and encourage citizens to question its actions. For example, Sharon Dolev of Greenpeace explained that Israel’s occupation of Palestine and human rights issues were once taboo, through a grassroots movement to use all available political tools and employing creative ways to reach out and stimulate dialogue, those issues have now entered the realm of mainstream political discourse. Through sustained efforts to question and resist the status quo, we can influence government priorities and policies and help bring about the nuclear free world of peace, justice, and equality that we desire.

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