While acknowledging that it will require the “political will” of all parties, Gulf Cooperation Council member nations on Monday vowed to work together “and spare no effort” to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons.
They also underscored “the legitimate right of states to peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” in line with the aims of the UN’s landmark 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, and called for full access to such technology, free of additional obligations.
Through its three pillars — prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons, the destruction of the existing nuclear arsenals, and promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy — the NPT has been the cornerstone of global non-proliferation efforts for more than half a century.
Speaking on behalf of GCC countries, Abdulaziz Alwasil, the permanent representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, expressed concern at “ongoing clandestine nuclear activities in the Middle East” and the fact that there are “certain nuclear facilities that are not controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
This, he said, constitutes a “disservice to the goal of” achieving a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, will “weaken the efforts made toward confidence building,” and will “threaten international and regional peace and security.”
Alwasil was speaking during the third session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, which was established in 2018 by a UN General Assembly resolution.
A resolution on a Middle East zone free of WMDs was adopted at an NPT review conference in 1995 and further developed in 2010. Alwasil said that the outcomes of these two review conferences remain “the main benchmark to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.”
Israel, a nuclear power, is not a party to the NPT. Iran is a signatory but the IAEA has for months expressed concern about the removal of the agency’s monitoring equipment from Iranian nuclear facilities and the blocking of access to key sites in the country where enrichment of uranium is believed to have taken place.
Just three days ago, the US, UK, France and Germany called on the board of the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to pass a resolution reflecting the “essential and urgent” need for Iran to explain why traces of uranium have been found at three sites that were declared as being part of its nuclear research, Reuters reported.
The draft text of the resolution also notes that the board “expresses profound concern that the safeguards issues related to three undeclared locations remain outstanding due to insufficient substantive cooperation by Iran.”
Alwasil highlighted the importance of ensuring that all nuclear facilities are subject to the IAEA’s safeguards regime “to ensure that no unannounced nuclear activities are taking place in the region.”
Later, speaking on behalf of his own country, Alwasil said that Saudi Arabia has worked with “sisterly Arab countries to issue a General Assembly resolution that called for holding a meeting that will lead to a legally binding instrument to establish a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery.”
He added: “My country supports all efforts aimed at establishing such a Middle East free zone, and our cooperation with the countries of the region to achieve that desired objective.
“Building trust measures and good neighborliness are important pillars to establish such a region and bring about regional peace and security.”
Reiterating the importance of securing the political will to achieve this goal, Alwasil said: “The continued clandestine nuclear activities in the Middle East, as well as nuclear facilities outside the supervision of the IAEA. would not serve the purpose of establishing such a free zone. It will instead lead to threats to international peace and security.”
He added: “The challenges facing the Middle East require concerted efforts to deescalate and build trust and express the goodwill among all countries of the region, to ensure peaceful coexistence and achieve development and prosperity for all peoples.
“The continued Israeli nuclear facilities outside the scope of monitoring by the IAEA, as well as the other clandestine nuclear activities, necessitate that we ensure these are for peaceful purposes and this is a real concern.
“We must ensure the peaceful nature of all nuclear activities in the region as a first step to achieving our primary objective, which is the establishment of a Middle East free zone.”
Alwasil said that Saudi Arabia, which actively participated in the previous two Conferences on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, welcomes an exchange of ideas and expertise on the legal framework for discussing this issue.
He also called for an exchange of ideas with countries that have already succeeded in achieving the goals of WMD-free zones in their regions, including in Africa, Latin America and Asia.