A conference to establish a weapons free zone in the Middle East was postponed on Saturday. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the League of Arab States (LAS) blamed to Israel’s lack of cooperation.
The aim of the conference was to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
A statement released on Sunday by the MFA stated, “Egypt refuses the announced excuses not to hold a conference in 2012 as scheduled.” The statement expressed “reservations on what is being said about the inability of the parties to the organisation of a conference.” It pointed to the “non-constructive attitudes adopted by the state that is not a member of the [non-proliferation] treaty,” referring to Israel, which the only Middle Eastern country to have never signed the treaty.
Similarly the Secretary General of the LAS, Nabil El-Araby released a statement which “expressed regret at the decision of the organisers… to postpone the conference.” The statment also highlighted that the LAS previously “rejected any attempts to postpone the conference.” El-Araby “stressed that all countries in the region except Israel have expressed their willingness to participate in the conference on schedule in accordance with what was agreed upon.”
A spokesperson for the MFA confirmed Israel’s refusal to attend the conference. The spokesperson said Israel viewed the meeting as an attempt to highlight the fact that it has not signed the non- proliferation treaty. He added, “we did not exclusively ask for Israel’s nuclear program to be the subject of the conference, other issues could also be discussed.”
The sponsors of the conference are the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), Russia and the United Nations (UN).
In a statement released on Saturday the Russian ministry of foreign affairs said the conference was postponed because “to date, not all countries in the ME have agreed to participate in the conference.”
The US Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland pointed to “present conditions in the ME and the fact that states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions for a conference.”
The establishment of the conference was agreed upon in 2012 at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. It was agreed and published in the final documents that the 2012 conference would “be attended by all states of the ME.”
The UK and the UN both released statements expressing their regret with the postponement.
After the sponsors of the conference released their statements, the facilitator of the conference, Finnish Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava said on Saturday, “we regret the conference will not be convened this year.” He added, “the conveners have reaffirmed their commitment to convene the conference and Finland as the host government remains prepared to organise it once convened.”
The Russian statement reported, “there are voices in favour of the transfer activities for 2013,” and called for the event to take place “no later than April next year.”
The foreign ministry spokesperson explained “this conference is a manifestation of what we have been calling for since 1995. Egypt was convinced to sign the NPT in 1981 on the understanding that if we joined then this would encourage Israel to join, but they have not.” He continued “Egypt has continuously put pressure on the international community to subject Israel to the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.”
The NPT holds the signatories to what has been interpreted as a three pillar system which includes non-proliferation, disarmament and the right to peacefully use nuclear technology.