Mideast Talks Held on WMD-Free Zone Prior to Ramadan Break

People cross a snow-covered road in Helsinki in February 2012. The Finnish capital could play host in September or December to a multinational conference on banning weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman
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Elaine M. Grossman
July 11, 2014, 7:22 a.m.

Be­fore tak­ing a pause for Ra­madan, dip­lo­mats from the Middle East and sup­port­ing na­tions met in Geneva late last month to con­tin­ue talks on the pos­sib­il­ity of cre­at­ing a re­gion­al ban on weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

The June 24-25 dis­cus­sions between Is­rael, Egypt and oth­er Ar­ab coun­tries fo­cused on an agenda for a pro­posed sum­mit of na­tions in Hel­sinki, con­ceiv­ably to be held in Septem­ber or Decem­ber, ac­cord­ing to en­voys and ex­perts track­ing the pro­cess.

The month-long Muslim hol­i­day ends Ju­ly 28 but no date has been set yet for the next con­sulta­tions, sources tell Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire. Finnish dip­lo­mat Jaakko Laa­java is fa­cil­it­at­ing the dis­cus­sions, with the latest meet­ing in Switzer­land be­ing the fifth such mul­ti­lat­er­al con­sulta­tion since last Oc­to­ber.

In the in­form­al talks, Egypt and oth­er Ar­ab states have con­tin­ued to press Is­rael to join the Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty as a non-weapons na­tion. Is­raeli dip­lo­mats have taken part in the WMD-free zone con­sulta­tions, but their gov­ern­ment has nev­er pub­licly ac­know­ledged the na­tion’s es­tim­ated stock­pile of 80 or more nuc­le­ar war­heads. Is­rael also has res­isted link­ing the idea of a re­gion­al WMD ban to the United Na­tions or non­pro­lif­er­a­tion treaty for­um.

In­stead, its en­voys have pushed for a WMD-free zone to equally em­phas­ize the elim­in­a­tion of bio­lo­gic­al and chem­ic­al weapons from the Middle East.

Neither Egypt nor Syr­ia has rat­i­fied the Bio­lo­gic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion, though each has signed it. For its part, Is­rael has neither signed nor rat­i­fied the BWC ac­cord. Egypt has not yet signed or rat­i­fied the 190-na­tion Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion.

Is­raeli dip­lo­mats ad­di­tion­ally are in­sist­ing that they would par­ti­cip­ate in a Hel­sinki con­fer­ence only if it is part of a broad­er ef­fort to es­tab­lish last­ing peace in the re­gion. To­ward that end, Is­rael wants to see Mideast na­tions ini­ti­ate con­fid­ence-build­ing meas­ures as a first step in cre­at­ing a WMD-free zone.

Is­rael’s Ar­ab in­ter­locutors have ac­cep­ted the idea “in prin­ciple” of dis­cuss­ing con­fid­ence-build­ing meas­ures, ac­cord­ing to Tariq Rauf of the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tion­al Peace Re­search In­sti­tute.

But Ar­ab en­voys say such trust-de­vel­op­ment meas­ures ““ which might ex­tend to list­ing or in­spect­ing con­ven­tion­al-cap­able de­liv­ery sys­tems — could be­come an un­ac­cept­able sub­sti­tute for the com­plete elim­in­a­tion of nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al and chem­ic­al arms from the Middle East.

“The good news is that they con­tin­ue to meet and dis­cuss the un­re­solved is­sues,” Chen Kane of the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies said in a Wed­nes­day phone in­ter­view. “The bad news is that they have not man­aged to agree on those yet.”

Ad­di­tion­al “dif­fer­ences per­sist over con­tinu­ation of the con­sulta­tions and the format of fu­ture work­ing ses­sions,” Rauf said in a June brief­ing in Aus­tria.

Laa­java has pro­posed break­ing up the mul­tina­tion­al ses­sions — in which some 18 del­eg­a­tions sit around a large con­fer­ence table — in­to smal­ler work­ing groups, which Rauf said the fa­cil­it­at­or wants to meet “in a par­al­lel and bal­anced way.”

Three dif­fer­ent work­ing groups would be ded­ic­ated to: “prop­er­ties of a zone”; “veri­fic­a­tion and com­pli­ance is­sues”; and “re­gion­al se­cur­ity, con­ven­tion­al arms con­trol and con­fid­ence-build­ing meas­ures,” ac­cord­ing to Rauf’s brief­ing, de­livered at a Vi­enna con­fer­ence last month.

Thus far, though, it ap­pears that Ar­ab na­tions have not been able to agree on a way to im­ple­ment the work­ing group ap­proach that would al­low them to ef­fect­ively co­ordin­ate their na­tion­al po­s­i­tions, as they have in the past, ex­perts say.

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