Friday, 20 September 2013

Middle east diplomatic opportunity not to be missed

The piece below was sent to The Times:
Your diplomatic editor seems  to be surprisingly pessimistic at the prospects of  bold diplomatic initiatives succeeding in dealing with security threats in the Middle East ("If Israel is paranoid, it has every reason to be," Sept 19).

He  describes as "disturbing" Russian attempts to link the problem of Syrian chemical weapons possession with Israel admitting its own nuclear programme. I do not regard this as disturbing, but realistic.

In an enlightened op-ed essay in the New York Times  on  Sept.19, ( "Let’s Be Honest About Israel’s Nukes,"

two senior nonproliferation commentators ( one, an ex-Nuclear Regulatory Commission commissioner, the other a former Pentagon advisor) sensibly wrote:  

"If Washington wants negotiations over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East to work — or even just to avoid making America appear ridiculous — Mr. Obama should begin by being candid. He cannot expect the countries participating in a conference to take America seriously if the White House continues to pretend that we don’t know whether Israel has nuclear weapons, or for that matter whether Egypt and Israel have chemical or biological ones.And if Israel’s policy on the subject is so frozen that it is unable to come clean, Mr. Obama must let the United States government be honest about Israel's arsenal and act on those facts, for both America’s good and Israel’s."   

Israel might achieve the  national security it  understandably seeks in the region by divesting itself of its own nuclear weapons in multilateral regional negotiations. It turns out, the Israeli Government has actually already agreed to such talks.

At the completely overlooked Paris Summit of Mediterranean countries, held on 13 July 2008, under the co-presidency of the French Republic and the Arab Republic of Egypt - and in the presence of Israel - which was represented by its then Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, the issue of peace within the region were explored in depth, and the final declaration stated the participants were in favour of:

 "regional security by acting in favour of nuclear, chemical and biological non-proliferation through adherence to and compliance with a combination of international and regional nonproliferation regimes and arms control and disarmament agreements.."

 The final document goes on to say:

"The parties shall pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems. Furthermore the parties will consider practical steps to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as excessive accumulation of conventional arms; refrain from developing military capacity beyond their legitimate defence requirements, at the same time reaffirming their resolve to achieve the same degree of security and mutual confidence with the lowest possible levels of troops and weaponry and adherence to CCW (the convention on certain conventional weapons) promote conditions likely to develop good-neighbourly relations among themselves and support processes aimed at stability, security"  

The Israeli  Prime Minister signed the declaration. Following the recent breakthrough on Syrian chemical weapons disarmament, this should  now be built upon by President Obama with his encouraging  earlier diplomatic initiative launched in Jerusalem. All efforts should be made to bring Iran to this huge peacemaking opportunity.


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