Progress Report: Conference for a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East

By Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova – In October 2011, Finland was designated as the host country for the 2012 Conference, and the Finnish Undersecretary of State Ambassador Jaakko Laajava was named as the Facilitator. In May 2012, the Facilitator reported on his work to the first PrepCom meeting. Despite conducting intensive consultations with states in the Middle East, as well as with the NPT depositaries and co-sponsors of the 1995 Resolution (Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), Laajava indicated that no agreement had been reached among key parties on the agenda and modalities of the conference.


By November 2012, only the Arab states had committed to attending the conference. On November 5, 2012 speaking at an EU-sponsored seminar on the Middle East, an Iranian representative said his country would also participate in the conference. Israel, which has major reservations about the mandate and purpose of the proposed meeting, never confirmed attendance, nor has it unequivocally refused to participate. 

In November 2012, the three NPT depositaries announced the postponement of the Middle East conference, which was tentatively scheduled for December 2012. Each of the three states released a separate statement, which was reflective of disagreements among the three on how to approach the organization and postponement of the meeting. Russia called for the conference to take place before the 2013 PrepCom; the United Kingdom supported convening the conference as soon as possible, while the US statement listed conditions for a successful conference without specific references to the timing. The Arab states have responded critically to the postponement, and the League of Arab States (LAS) several times this year has discussed the possibility of boycotting the 2013 PrepCom meeting. The LAS made no decision on the boycott but did instruct the Arab group in Vienna to put the Israeli Nuclear Capabilities issue on the agenda of the 2013 IAEA General Conference.

The main issues that need to be resolved for the conference to take place are the conference agenda and desired outcome. States so far have had divergent views about the possible agenda and what the conference should accomplish. The Arab states are anxious to see the conference take place as a first step towards negotiations on a WMDFZ in the region and implementation of the 1995 Middle East resolution. Therefore, they would like the conference to establish a formal process. Israel, however, is concerned that such a conference might lead to a “slippery slope” of negotiations on a zone, while the regional conditions Israel deems as necessary for its success (peaceful relations and reconciliation among all states in the region) are not present.

The Facilitator has proposed that the parties, including the Arab states, Iran and Israel, hold multilateral consultations before the 2013 PrepCom to discuss the conference agenda, rules of procedure, and outcome. The Arab states suggested that the participants in such consultations be limited to those committed to attending the Middle East conference, and that the new date for the conference be set before the consultations convene. The consultations have not yet taken place because of the key parties’ disagreements over their terms and conditions.

Participation in the conference by all relevant states is particularly important, and Israel so far is the only state that has not agreed to attend the conference. After the 2010 NPT Review Conference, Israel stated that the consensus document ignores the realities of the Middle East and that, as a non-signatory to the NPT, Israel is not obligated to follow the decisions of the review conference. Subsequently, however, Israel engaged in consultations on the appointment of the facilitator, and later with the facilitator himself. Israel also expressed willingness to participate in the multilateral consultations proposed by the facilitator to define an agenda, mandate, and terms of reference that would reflect its concerns, and as long as they do not require Israel to commit to attend the conference itself.

Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). This is part of a monitoring report CNS prepared on the 9th NPT Review Conference, scheduled to be held in 2015. The second Preparatory Committee meeting of the ninth review cycle is currently held in Geneva from April 22 to May 3, 2013. CNS compiled a set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) related to the upcoming meeting.