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Об итогах второй сессии конференции по ЗСОМУ, позиции Ирана и перспективах для ОК ДНЯО 2022 с Тариком Рауфом

Тарик Рауф

In the interview with Tariq Rauf, PIR Center Advisory Board member, Former Head of the Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office at the IAEA, we talked about the outcomes of the second session of the WMD free zone, Iran’s position and prospects for NPT Review Conference scheduled for January 2022. 

What are the main results of the second session of the Conference on the WMD free zone in the Middle East?

Tariq Rauf: The second session was held in New York from the 29th of November to the 3rd of December. In my view, the Conference accomplished two or three things. It managed to agree on a final report. It also managed to agree on the rules of procedure for future sessions of the WMD free-zone conference, and the support in principle that all decisions need to be made by consensus and that all States of the region are invited to take part in these annual conferences. And, then the Conference also agreed to establish an Intersessional Committee. Until now, there was no work done between the first session in 2019 and the second session this year. So, with this Intersessional Committee, the States have agreed to do some intersessional work and consultations, and to report to the 2022 session. In that sense, I think the Conference made some progress and it is moving away from being a “talk shop” to discussing some elements of a nuclear- and weapons of mass destruction free zone to be created in the region of the Middle East.  

How will the outcomes of the conference correlate with the upcoming NPT Review Conference in January 2022?

Tariq Rauf: Many delegations in the West, in particular, are hopeful that because of this Conference, the Arab States, especially Egypt, Iran and others, will not make the Middle East Zone and the implementation of the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference resolution on establishing such a zone a controversial issue at the 2022 NPT review conference. However, in my view and in the view of several of the States of the region, the place to discuss and to be accountable for the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference resolution is the NPT Review Conference. And even the mandate of the UN Conference that was held recently is also based on the 1995 resolution. The next Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference is to be held in New York from the 4th to the 28th of January 2022. In my view, the NPT review conference cannot escape discussing the Middle East zone but to what extent this matter becomes controversial remains to be seen. But, as you know, the situation in the Middle East region is in quite some flux. Relations among some of the Arab countries are problematic, even though some Arab countries have recognized Israel and have established diplomatic relations with it under the Trump administration.

Nonetheless, we need to see how this situation progresses. Israel's main interest in dealing with the new countries that have recognized it in the Middle East is basically to further its anti-Iran agenda. The Israeli prime minister was just visiting the United Arab Emirates, and according to news reports, he wanted to get their support for tougher action on Iran. But again, according to these new reports, the UAE was not interested in such escalation and did not support Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. 

Also, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear programme is suspended after the Trump administration withdrew from it in May 2018 and starting in June 2019 Iran also began to progressively reduce its commitments under the JCPOA. Now, both the United States and Iran are not implementing it. Here in Vienna, we have had seven rounds of “proximity talks” between Iran and the United States facilitated by the European Union, but as yet there is no agreement on restoring implementation of the JCPOA. So, the Middle East issue remains problematic. The Arab States have said that they do not want to be blamed if the 2022 NPT Review Conference fails to adopt a final document over disagreements on the Middle East issue and the lack of implementation of the 1995 NPT resolution given the United States’ continuing support for Israel in opposing the establishment of a nuclear- and weapons of mass destruction free zone in the region. On the other hand, the Arab States also want to make sure that this issue is properly discussed and properly reflected in any final document coming from the 2022 NPT Review Conference. 

According to what criteria will you assess the success and the failure of the second session of the conference?

Tariq Rauf: The second session of the UN Middle East Conference is generally regarded as being successful as we have just discussed: it approved a final report; adopted the rules of procedure; and set up an Intersessional Committee. The Conference agreed that the next session will take place in 2022. So, from these aspects, I think the conference was a success. 

On the other hand, the Conference did not discuss the elements of a future nuclear- and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) free zone. Also, apparently the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not attend the second session. We can see on the website of the Conference, a background paper submitted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons but not one from the IAEA. In my view, the UN Middle East Conference and the Intersessional Committee must engage with the IAEA and the OPCW because these two organizations are the verification organizations for the non-proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons, verification of non-nuclear-weapon and chemical weapon-free status of zonal States, as well as also verifying a WMD free-zone. So, it shows that there is some disconnect in the work of the Conference. I understand that there was strong pressure from the United States and Israel on the OPCW and the IAEA not to attend the second session. This is not new. This is an old practice. As long as the opposition of Israel supported by the US continues, we have one important player in the Middle East absent from the Middle East Conference and in particular, if as is generally believed, Israel does have nuclear weapons. This session, in my view, while it was successful in some respects, could have achieved more. 

In what case may Israel and the USA join the conference in the Middle East? 

Tariq Rauf: The US official position is that it wants discussion and work on the zone to proceed in accordance with the United Nations General Assembly guidelines on establishing nuclear-weapon-free zones, among which is that the initiative must come from within the States of the region and the nuclear-weapon States need to be involved in the negotiations. There should be no pressure. All decisions should be by consensus. The US stated at the 2019 NPT Preparatory Committee session that the 2018 decision by the UN General Assembly to hold these annual Middle East Conferences was “illegitimate”. So, if the US thinks that this whole process of the UN Middle East Conference is illegitimate and illegal, so to speak, it is not going to show up; even though the US along with the UK and Russia – the three depositary States of the NPT – cosponsored the 1995 NPT resolution on setting up a nuclear- and weapons of mass destruction free zone in the region of the Middle East.  

And,  I am surprised that there was not much reaction from the Arab States and Iran to media reports that in September, President Biden, like previous presidents, signed a letter to the Israeli prime minister, giving an assurance that the United States will not pressure Israel to join the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state and will not pressure Israel to join a WMD free zone in the Middle East. So, if that is the US' attitude, I do not see much prospect for the US or Israel joining this UN Conference process. Finally, on this matter, both President Obama, followed by President Trump, reaffirmed the US’ position that Israel must maintain a qualitative military edge, and for that purpose, the US will continue to supply Israel with advanced conventional weapons. This creates a military imbalance in the region. The US remains the largest exporter of conventional weapons to the region of the Middle East. Thus, it is a very complicated issue when it comes to talking about the United States, Israel, and the Arab States and the future of a nuclear- and weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. 

How does the Iranian administration see the outcomes of this conference and what does this conference mean for Iran?

Tariq Rauf: If we look at the statement that Iran made at the UN Middle East Conference, it basically reiterated that Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful, and that Iran remains a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran criticized Israel and Israel's nuclear weapons programme. Iran also criticized Israel for not being a party to the NPT, and not supporting a Middle East WMD free zone. Other than that, there was not much in the Iranian statement. It was considered a positive development that Iran attended the UN Conference. As you know, during 2013 and 2014 “multilateral consultations” on the Middle East zone chaired by Finland’s Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, in preparation for the 2015 NPT review conference; Iran did not attend many of those consultations. So, in that sense, it seems that Iran's position in the context of the UN Conference is more positive and supportive now that Iran is under a lot of pressure on the JCPOA. Israel is threatening military action. The United States has a very tough position on maintaining sanctions against Iran. People are expecting that Iran will take a tough position at the NPT review conference, which would be in contrast to the position that it took at the UN Middle East Conference.

To read more about Tariq Rauf’s position, you can look at the Toda Peace Institute Policy Brief No. 120 “Achieving the Possible Against the Odds: A Middle East Nuclear and WMD Free Zone”.  

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The interview was conducted by Sofya Shestakova, an Intern, PIR Center on December 24, 2021