Mideast Envoys Weigh Two New Bids to Jolt WMD-Ban Talks

Iranian students set an Israeli flag afire during a protest to defend their country's nuclear program outside the Fordo Uranium Conversion Facility in the northern town of Qom in November. Neither Iran nor Israel has ruled out participating in a major summit to explore a ban on nuclear, chemical and biological arms from the Middle East.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman
June 6, 2014, 9:36 a.m.

In­ter­na­tion­al dip­lo­mats par­ti­cip­at­ing in in­form­al talks about ban­ning weapons of mass de­struc­tion from the Middle East re­turned to their cap­it­als from Geneva last month bear­ing two new doc­u­ments, ac­cord­ing to en­voys and ex­perts.

The so-called “non-pa­pers” — an Or­wellian term craf­ted to al­low au­thors and com­menters alike to re­main non­com­mit­tal — were aimed at identi­fy­ing where pro­gress might be made to­ward set­ting an agenda and ob­ject­ives for a ma­jor sum­mit in Fin­land, sources said.

The Hel­sinki con­fer­ence was to have been held by the end of 2012, but has been re­peatedly post­poned as Ar­ab states, Is­rael and Ir­an have bickered over what should be dis­cussed. Some say the event could yet oc­cur later this year.

Mideast na­tions also have not yet agreed on the type of pro­cess or frame­work that might fol­low a one- or two-day in­ter­na­tion­al sum­mit. Those of­fi­cially spon­sor­ing the dis­cus­sions in­clude the United Na­tions, a U.N.-ap­poin­ted “fa­cil­it­at­or,” and the na­tions of Rus­sia, the United States and United King­dom.

The ul­ti­mate goal would be to make the Middle East a re­gion­al zone in which all nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al and chem­ic­al weapons are pro­hib­ited.

A ma­jor point of con­ten­tion has been over how to get to that end ob­ject­ive. Ar­ab na­tions prin­cip­ally want to see pro­gress in dis­mant­ling Is­rael’s pre­sumed 80-war­head-or-so nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al and bring­ing the na­tion un­der the Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty as a non-atom­ic-weapons coun­try.

However, Is­rael has nev­er con­firmed pub­licly that it main­tains a nuc­le­ar stock­pile, and has said that it would par­ti­cip­ate in such a con­fer­ence only if dis­cus­sions ad­dress the broad­er con­text of cre­at­ing an en­dur­ing Middle East peace.

For starters, Is­raeli lead­ers would like to see the pro­cess res­ult in con­fid­ence-build­ing meas­ures among the un­easy neigh­bors, ar­guing that to dis­arm as a first step would put the cart be­fore the horse.

Ar­ab na­tions have been reti­cent to ac­cept that idea, though. They con­tend that swap­ping in­form­a­tion and vis­its would be a dis­trac­tion from — and an un­ac­cept­able sub­sti­tute for — mak­ing sub­stan­tial head­way on nuc­le­ar and oth­er WMD dis­arm­a­ment in the re­gion.

“They just see it as buy­ing time on what they con­sider the main is­sues,” Chen Kane, a seni­or re­search as­so­ci­ate at the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, said in a Wed­nes­day phone in­ter­view.

If the spe­cial-zone concept were to come to fruition, Is­rael likely would have to join not only the NPT agree­ment, but also sign and rat­i­fy the Bio­lo­gic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion; Egypt must sign and rat­i­fy the 190-na­tion Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion; and Egypt and Syr­ia must rat­i­fy the Bio­lo­gic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion, which they have already signed.

At the May 14-15 con­sulta­tion ses­sion in Geneva, Finnish fa­cil­it­at­or Jaakko Laa­java is said to have cir­cu­lated among 18 par­ti­cip­at­ing na­tions the two non-pa­pers in hopes of spur­ring fur­ther use­ful dis­cus­sion about the con­fer­ence agenda and out­comes, an ar­ray of mul­tina­tion­al sources tell Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire. Some spoke for this art­icle on con­di­tion of not be­ing named, cit­ing dip­lo­mat­ic sens­it­iv­it­ies.

One of the doc­u­ments rounds up ideas put forth by the vari­ous par­ti­cipants, these sources said. The oth­er — re­portedly draf­ted by a spon­sor­ing del­eg­a­tion — of­fers some spe­cif­ic ele­ments for pro­cess out­comes.

The good news emer­ging from Geneva last month, says one dip­lo­mat track­ing the pro­cess: “Nobody re­jec­ted the non-pa­pers. On the con­trary, they were found to be use­ful.”

Sev­er­al oth­ers shared that view, but many re­main pess­im­ist­ic for the long-term out­look.

“My sense is that the pro­spects for a break­through with re­spect to agree­ment on a date for the con­fer­ence in Hel­sinki has di­min­ished in the past three months,” Wil­li­am Pot­ter, who dir­ects the James Mar­tin Cen­ter, said in an email late last month.

He noted that Wash­ing­ton did not dis­patch its top dip­lo­mat re­spons­ible for the is­sue, Thomas Coun­try­man, to the latest con­sulta­tions, and that a seni­or en­voy rep­res­en­ted Egypt there but was re­l­at­ively new to the Mideast WMD-free zone mat­ter.

The May con­sulta­tion was the fourth such in­ter­na­tion­al dis­cus­sion event over­all, but the first held in Geneva.

Laa­java has led three pri­or ses­sions at a hotel in the Swiss re­sort town of Gli­on since last Oc­to­ber. However, Ar­ab states and Ir­an have pro­tested that Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty na­tions had called for talks to take place un­der U.N. aus­pices.

For its part, Ir­an at­ten­ded the first Gli­on ses­sion but is not ex­pec­ted to re­join the con­sulta­tions while high-pro­file ne­go­ti­ations with world powers over its nuc­le­ar pro­gram re­main un­der way.

Is­rael — not a party to the NPT ac­cord and not dir­ectly in­volved in the ori­gin­al ef­fort to cre­ate a Mideast WMD-free zone — has bristled at meet­ing on the top­ic in U.N. ven­ues, par­tic­u­larly giv­en its com­plex his­tory with the in­ter­na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to en­voys and ex­perts.

Is­rael­is “are not too keen on high vis­ib­il­ity or [a] role for the U.N., giv­en the U.N.’s stance on [the] state of Palestine, and oth­er is­sues of se­cur­ity [and] polit­ic­al im­port­ance for Is­rael,” said Tariq Rauf, who dir­ects the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tion­al Peace Re­search In­sti­tute’s Arms Con­trol and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Pro­gram.

Laa­java ended up con­ven­ing the mid-May meet­ing at a U.N. build­ing in Geneva but apart from the headquar­ters. U.N. flags pos­ted in the meet­ing room ap­par­ently caused an ini­tial stir, one ex­pert source said, but the ven­ue com­prom­ise ul­ti­mately ap­peared to be ac­cept­able to all par­ti­cipants.

The next such con­sulta­tion — tent­at­ively slated for June 24-25 — is also to be held in Geneva.

A bit of ad­di­tion­al drama is said to have marred the latest con­sulta­tions.

Ar­ab dip­lo­mats grumbled that the Is­raeli del­eg­a­tion ab­ruptly backed out of the planned second day of the May con­sulta­tions. Is­raeli en­voys re­portedly said that the change in plans was un­re­lated to the in­form­al talks and purely lo­gist­ic­al in nature, and that they in­tend to con­tin­ue par­ti­cip­at­ing in the pro­cess.

Some sources noted, though, that it was un­clear wheth­er there would have been suf­fi­cient reas­on for meet­ing on a second day any­way.

Many of the en­voys at­tend­ing last month’s con­fab lacked de­cision au­thor­ity, so a num­ber of del­eg­a­tions in Geneva were un­able to com­ment on the non-pa­pers without check­ing back with their home cap­it­als, of­fi­cials and ex­perts said.

The in­clu­sion of lower-rank­ing dip­lo­mats, com­pared to earli­er ses­sions, meant some were “in­de­cis­ive and not fully em­powered to de­cide on the fa­cil­it­at­or’s pro­pos­als,” Rauf said.

Laa­java has voiced “a long­stand­ing com­plaint” that na­tions should send “fully em­powered del­eg­ates, at the right seni­or­ity level, to at­tend his con­sulta­tions with the au­thor­ity to take de­cisions on the [con­fer­ence] agenda, tim­ing [and] mod­al­it­ies,” Rauf said in a Tues­day email, re­spond­ing to ques­tions.

Mean­while, the na­tions have set aside for now an idea floated earli­er this year to peri­od­ic­ally break in­to smal­ler work­ing groups that could tee up agenda and out­come pro­pos­als for all par­ti­cipants to con­sider in full plen­ary con­sulta­tion ses­sions, ac­cord­ing to sources.

Is­rael’s neigh­bors — which have strived to speak with one voice on the mat­ter via the Ar­ab League — to date have not sor­ted out how work­ing-group mem­bers could make head­way on their own, sources ex­plained. For now, the con­sulta­tions will con­tin­ue to be held with all parties around a big table, ac­cord­ing to those closely fol­low­ing the is­sue.

Sep­ar­ately, form­al work­ing groups on polit­ic­al mat­ters, tech­nic­al is­sues and con­fid­ence-build­ing steps might be cre­ated fol­low­ing a Hel­sinki con­fer­ence as part of any con­tinu­ing pro­cess aimed at even­tu­ally es­tab­lish­ing the zone, Kane and oth­er is­sue ex­perts said.

What We're Following See More »
Sanders and Clinton Spar Over … President Obama
3 hours ago

President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

THE 1%
Sanders’s Appeals to Minorities Still Filtered Through Wall Street Talk
4 hours ago

It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”

Clinton Already Pivoting Her Messaging
5 hours ago

It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.

How Many Jobs Would Be Lost Under Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer System?
13 hours ago

More than 11 million, according to Manhattan Institute fellow Yevgeniy Feyman, writing in RealClearPolicy.

State to Release 550 More Clinton Emails on Saturday
13 hours ago

Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.