Israel, Arab States Talking — But Still Deadlocked on Mideast WMD Ban

A Palestinian man sits waiting to cross into Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. Egypt, Israel and other Middle Eastern nations took part in a second round of consultations on the idea of banning weapons of mass destruction from the region.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
Dec. 5, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — Is­raeli and Ar­ab en­voys met for the second time at a Swiss re­sort late last month to con­fer on the agenda for re­gion­al talks about a pos­sible ban on weapons of mass de­struc­tion, but some key dif­fer­ences re­main, ac­cord­ing to sources fa­mil­i­ar with the dis­cus­sions.

One cent­ral stum­bling block: De­term­in­ing which arms could be dis­cussed, in­siders tell Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire. While Ar­ab states in­sist that the fo­cus must re­main on nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al and con­ven­tion­al weapons and de­liv­ery sys­tems, Is­rael says the role of un­con­ven­tion­al sys­tems can­not be dis­cussed out­side of the broad­er con­text of threats to na­tion­al se­cur­ity in the Middle East.

“With sup­port from West­ern co-con­veners,” Is­rael “pressed for in­clu­sion” of con­ven­tion­al weaponry and con­fid­ence- and se­cur­ity-build­ing meas­ures “as part of the over­all dis­cus­sion on a WMD- [and] de­liv­ery vehicles-free zone,” said one in­formed ob­serv­er who spoke on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity, cit­ing the sens­it­iv­ity of the be­hind-closed-doors con­sulta­tions.

The Ar­ab side’s po­s­i­tion was “to fo­cus only on [a] WMD- [and re­lated] de­liv­ery-vehicles-free zone,” this source said.

Mul­tiple in­siders de­scribed the tone of the meet­ings last month as cor­di­al and con­struct­ive, though.

There were “no ab­so­lute noes, no ab­so­lute yeses” to any top­ic un­der dis­cus­sion, said one dip­lo­mat close to the pro­cess, sug­gest­ing that the in­ter­na­tion­al dia­logue has the po­ten­tial to con­tin­ue.

The Nov. 25-26 gath­er­ing was pre­ceded by an Oc­to­ber con­fab at the same Gli­on loc­a­tion at which Is­raeli, Ar­ab and Ir­a­ni­an of­fi­cials met for the first time with the aim of sort­ing out an agenda for a ma­jor con­fer­ence to be held in Fin­land.

Dip­lo­mats from Ir­an did not take part in the most re­cent Gli­on meet­ings. Key of­fi­cials were said to be busy work­ing on in­ter­na­tion­al talks over their coun­try’s con­tested nuc­le­ar pro­gram, though it was un­clear wheth­er any ad­di­tion­al is­sues also were factors in the ab­sence. Source said that Tehran had not ruled out re­join­ing any fur­ther WMD-free zone con­sulta­tions.

The ma­jor Hel­sinki con­fer­ence to ex­plore the concept of a Mideast WMD ban was to have taken place last year. However, it was post­poned in­def­in­itely when the re­gion­al states — along with con­ven­ing na­tions Rus­sia, the United King­dom and United States — were un­able to agree on terms for par­ti­cip­a­tion.

Finnish dip­lo­mat Jaakko Laa­java, the U.N.-sponsored fa­cil­it­at­or for the pro­cess, is now eye­ing a third ses­sion at Gli­on, pos­sibly early next year, GSN has learned.

This meet­ing would be “to seek agree­ment on the mod­al­it­ies of the or­gan­iz­a­tion of the [Middle East] con­fer­ence to be held in Hel­sinki in the first half of 2014,” one source said this week. Oth­ers also close to the pro­cess con­firmed dis­cus­sion of that pos­sible time frame for the Hel­sinki event.

However, the po­ten­tial tim­ing might be overly op­tim­ist­ic for the pro­posed talks, be­cause mod­al­it­ies — that’s dip­lo-speak for agenda and ground rules — “will be dif­fi­cult to agree upon ab­sent agree­ment on the scope and man­date of the [Middle East] con­fer­ence,” the in­sider said.

If plaus­ible, though, an early- to mid-year Hel­sinki gath­er­ing could suit WMD-free-zone ad­voc­ates. Egyp­tian For­eign Min­is­ter Nab­il Fahmy in Septem­ber called for the ma­jor talks to be held “by spring 2014, at the latest.”

He and oth­er Ar­ab lead­ers con­tin­ue to press Laa­java and the con­ven­ing na­tions to set a date for the Hel­sinki con­fer­ence, with or without Is­raeli as­sent to par­ti­cip­ate.

However, a key in­ter­na­tion­al res­ol­u­tion on the mat­ter said the con­fer­ence must in­clude the vol­un­tary par­ti­cip­a­tion of all states in the re­gion. That word­ing has ef­fect­ively giv­en veto power to Is­rael or any oth­er Mideast na­tion re­gard­ing wheth­er the con­fer­ence is held, sev­er­al ex­pert sources say.

Egypt has led the ef­fort to con­vene the Middle East WMD dis­cus­sions and has sought pro­gress on the mat­ter pri­or to the next pre­par­at­ory com­mit­tee meet­ing on the Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty. That gath­er­ing is slated to be­gin in late April in New York.

To protest the 2012 post­pone­ment of the Hel­sinki talks, the Egyp­tian del­eg­a­tion walked out on the pre­vi­ous NPT pre­par­at­ory meet­ing — held last April in Geneva — at which treaty mem­ber na­tions con­tin­ued plan­ning for a 2015 re­view con­fer­ence.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

What We're Following See More »
Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
1 days ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."

Trump Draws Laughs, Boos at Al Smith Dinner
2 days ago

After a lighthearted beginning, Donald Trump's appearance at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York "took a tough turn as the crowd repeatedly booed the GOP nominee for his sharp-edged jokes about his rival Hillary Clinton."

McMullin Leads in New Utah Poll
2 days ago

Evan McMul­lin came out on top in a Emer­son Col­lege poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clin­ton took third with 24%. Gary John­son re­ceived 5% of the vote in the sur­vey.

Quinnipiac Has Clinton Up by 7
2 days ago

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll finds Hillary Clin­ton lead­ing Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” van­ished from the uni­versity’s early Oc­to­ber poll. A new PPRI/Brook­ings sur­vey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a vir­tu­al dead heat, with Trump tak­ing 41% of the vote to Clin­ton’s 40% in a four-way match­up.

Trump: I’ll Accept the Results “If I Win”
2 days ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.