From 19-22 November 2019 Pugwash President Sergio Duarte attended the opening of general debate of the conference convened in accordance with General Assembly decision A/73/546, entitled “Convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction”. A decision had been taken by the President of the Conference, Ambassador Bahous of Jordan, and participating States to allow invited NGOs to participate as observers through the opening sessions.
The First Session of the Conference was convened by the UN Secretary General pursuant to Resolution 73/546. Amb. Sima Bahous of Jordan was elected President. 23 States from the region participated, plus four NWS invited as observers. It was agreed to proceed by consensus on both procedural and substantive issues, pending final agreement on the rules of procedure, which will be considered in the intersessional period. The thematic debate centered on principles and objectives, general obligations on nuclear weapons and other WMD, peaceful uses, international cooperation, institutional arrangements and other aspects. Representatives of existing NW Free Zones will be invited prior to the Second Session to share good practices and lessons learned. The Conference adopted a Political Declaration and a Report. The next Session will be held in New York from 16 to 20 November 2020.
The Declaration stated the belief of participating States that a verifiable ME Zone free of Nuclear Weapons and other WMD would greatly enhance regional and international peace and security and stated further their intent to pursue in an open and inclusive manner the elaboration of a legally binding treaty on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the States of the region. In that spirit, the Conference extended an open-ended invitation to all those States to support the Declaration and join in the process. Participating States also undertook to follow-up on the Declaration and on the outcomes of the Conference.
Assessment by Sergio Duarte
The final outcome can be considered reasonably successful given the political situation and the tensions in the region. The expected absences of Israel and the United States did not prevent the Conference to proceed as planned. The positions and attitudes taken by those two States about the establishment of a Middle East WMD Free Zone continue to be seen as a main obstacle to progress. No major breakthroughs were achieved at the Conference, but participants showed unity of purpose and were able to avoid possible pitfalls. However, divergent security perceptions will have to be reconciled in the follow-up process. Much effort will be needed in the intersessional period to define the next steps to be taken. The decision-making method will continue to be among the main topics under discussion.
(Image above: Ambassador Bahous, President of the Conference, with Amb. Sergio Duarte, President of Pugwash)