UN Chief Doubts Mideast Nuke-Free Zone

UNITED NATIONS – Against the backdrop of a major summit meeting of world leaders on nuclear non-proliferation hosted by the United States, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed strong doubts about the long-standing proposal to create a nuclear-free zone in the militarily volatile Middle East.

The proposal has not achieved any progress until now for various reasons, including the political situation on the Middle East peace process, he admitted Monday.

"We have achieved [progress] in many areas, including in Central Asia, where they have agreed and established a nuclear weapons-free zone," but the Middle East nuke-free zone remains stalled, Ban told reporters.

Speaking off the record, an Arab diplomat told IPS that "Israel is a rogue nation that not only has nuclear weapons but has also refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT]."

But the power it exercises over U.S. foreign policy has protected Israel from condemnation and reprisals for going nuclear, he added.

And the hypocrisy of it all is when the Security Council penalizes North Korea and Iran, it uses a different yardstick, the diplomat said.

The secretary-general said if the world is to achieve its eventual goal of a nuclear-free world – advocated by U.S. President Barack Obama – "it is absolutely necessary to have all areas with nuclear-weapons-free-zones".

"I am sure the leaders [meeting in Washington this week] will discuss this matter, but I am not quite sure how much progress they will be able to make during this summit meeting," he added.

The nuclear security summit, convened by Obama, is being attended by some 47 countries, including the five declared nuclear powers, the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia, and the three undeclared nuclear powers, India, Pakistan, and Israel.

The last three have refused to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Last week, there were published reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pulled back from the summit at the eleventh hour, primarily because Egypt and Turkey were expected to raise the Israeli nuclear issue at the summit.

Asked about the Security Council’s obsession with Iran’s nuclear program, Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya, president of the General Assembly, told reporters last year his country had voluntarily given up its nuclear weapons program and was totally opposed to any country possessing such weapons.

Over the years, the General Assembly, the UN’s highest policy-making body, has called for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, he added.

"Where should we start?" asked Treki, striking a note of sarcasm. "Should we start with the country which has nuclear weapons in the Middle East (read: Israel) or the country accused of attempting to have nuclear weapons (read: Iran)?"

"We don’t want Israel to have nuclear weapons and we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons," he added.

By extension, he said, Libya does not want even the five permanent members of the Security Council, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China, to have what he called "the world’s most destructive and indiscriminate weapon."

Asked about the countries which have opted out of the NPT, Ban told reporters: "All member states who have not done so should participate in the NPT Treaty. That is an obligation of all member states of the United Nations."

Likewise, he said, "I am going to urge in Washington that all the countries who have not signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) should also do so without further delay".

That is part of our common commitment, to make this world free of nuclear weapons, the secretary-general added.

Still, the five big powers in the Security Council have imposed sanctions on both Iran and North Korea, although the Iranians have insisted their nuclear program is purely for peaceful uses.

Last year, the Security Council tightened its sanctions on North Korea and penalized the country for testing a nuclear weapon.

The 15-member Council also expressed its "gravest concern" on such weapons testing in violation of a previous resolution.

But the five major powers that gave their blessings to this resolution are not only the world’s five declared nuclear powers but also have had no compunctions about testing their nukes in their own backyards – if not in other people’s backyards.

Just before the resolution was adopted, a statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry read: "There is a limit to our patience. The nuclear test conducted in our nation this time is the earth’s 2,054th nuclear test. The five permanent members of the Security Council have conducted 99.99 percent of the total nuclear tests."

And the North Koreans apparently got their numbers right.

The online Web site PolitiFact quoted statistics from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) which listed some 2,051 nuclear tests worldwide since 1945.

The breakdown for the five permanent members of the Security Council follows: United States: 1,030; Russia/USSR: 715; Britain: 45; France: 210; China: 45.

Additionally, there have been a handful of other tests, although no exact numbers are available. These tests were conducted by India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen writes for Inter Press Service.