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Arab Absence from Discussions on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
Published in AL HAYAT on 01 - 05 - 2010

Something very embarrassing is happening for Arab leaderships, as they rush today seeking after a strategy that would save them from the siege imposed on them by the five nuclear permanent members of the Security Council on the one hand and by both Iran and Israel on the other. They rush on the eve of the opening of the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the level of ambassadors and experts at the United Nations, while Arab leaderships should have sent to the conference Foreign Ministers and also Defense Ministers, considering the perspectives and the consequences of the conference for the Arab region. Most of the countries of the world will be present in New York at the level of governments, NGOs and experts from intellectual institutions within strategies that have been planned for a long period of time. As for the Arabs, they will be few, in terms of numbers and of influence, purposely and inadvertently, because fleeing forwards in Arab thought represents a strategy, and because thinking outside the traditional government box is considered unnecessary. The month of May will include a host of activities concerned with the nuclear issue and with weapons of mass destruction, on the sidelines of the NPT Review Conference at the United Nations which starts on Monday. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will most likely storm the conference, to turn it into a demonstration against Israel and its nuclear weapons, and to elude the requirements which the Security Council and the five countries are demanding of Iran.
Israel will attempt to play the role of the disappearing magician at the conference, first because it does not admit possessing an illegal nuclear arsenal, and second because countries such as Russia, the US and Europe are protecting it from being held accountable on its behalf and to reward it for “accepting” not to risk a military strike against Iran and its nuclear facilities. As for Arab countries, they will be completely surrounded, between Israel's enticement, Iran's outbidding and Russia's surprises, such as the one brought by Moscow when it took the initiative of putting forth a common US-Russian stance which weakens – and in fact buries – the decision unanimously adopted in 1995, which stated declaring the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons. Back then, this decision had been tantamount to an unfortunate trade-off and had come as compensation for the yielding of the Arabs, and specifically for the open-ended extension without a timeframe of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and for retracting their insistence on Israel entering as party to the treaty as a precondition for extension. Indeed, the decision taken in 1995 was supposed to allow raising the topic of Israel alone in the region possessing nuclear weapons when resolving the issue of all weapons of mass destruction by turning the Middle East into a region free of such weapons. Today it is no longer possible to collectively bury heads in the sand when faced with the Israeli nuclear issue, especially as the Security Council is preparing to take measures of additional sanctions against Iran due to doubts over its resolve to obtain military nuclear capabilities. Indeed, the intertwining between the two nuclear issues of Israel and Iran is coming to New York next week in a process that will not be limited to driving Arab leaderships into a position of embarrassment. Such intertwining is present in the minds of ordinary peoples as well as in the accounts of extremist groups and organizations, which the Washington Conference two weeks ago classified as the most dangerous for humanity if the system of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons were to fail. For these reasons, wisdom is needed and is necessary. Indeed, it would be of the utmost danger for everyone – perhaps with the exception of Iran – for Arab leaderships to seem like instruments of yielding to the dictates of the Americans, the Europeans, the Israelis and even the Russians, because the impression of yielding to dictates will inflame feelings against all those who are implementing the strategy of absolving Israel from being held accountable. What is worse is that such absolution will turn into ammunition in the hands of the organizations and groups which US President Barack Obama does not want to obtain illegal weapons. The five great nuclear countries are therefore required to think deeply instead of making Arab leaderships bear the burden of absolving Israel, or else they would be bearing responsibility for the failure of the conference. Arab leaderships, on their part, are required to stop burying their heads in the sand and to participate at the highest levels in the project of thinking of tactics and strategy – and to include in the workshop the participation of Arab experts in the nuclear, media and intellectual fields – so that they may not fall prey to exaggeration, outbidding, surprises and trade-offs at their expense, and so as not to remain working in a verbal movement with the art of resounding discursive exaggeration until they are extinguished.
No amount of criticism and blame for Arab faltering is sufficient on the eve of holding the NPT Review Conference, because all other countries have prepared well, and for months and years, for this conference in order for their priorities to be achieved.
The Arabs know that this conference will turn into one about Israel and Iran. And in spite of this, they have no shared pressure cards, no prepared strategies and no scenarios, neither to defend against what is generally expected nor against surprises.
Russia has come to head the list of surprises when it shocked the Arabs with the document of US-Russian recommendations which Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Antonov took the initiative of presenting to Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa last week in Cairo.
The conclusion of these recommendations is “the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free from weapons of mass destruction including in particular nuclear weapons” as stated in the decision taken in 1995, however “with the insistence” on the necessity of first “achieving” the following: (a) all-encompassing peace in the Middle East; (b) complete commitment by the countries of the region to the implementation of agreements concerning chemical and biological weapons; (c) beginning to implement the treaty banning nuclear tests; and (d) the voluntary commitment of all the countries of the region not to develop the capabilities to enrich uranium as a “trust-building measure” on the path of implementing the 1995 decision. This is alongside other demands of the likes of subjecting nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is only compulsory for the countries that have ratified the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) – and Israel is exempt from this as it is not party to that treaty. All of this is exchange for approving of a conference under the supervision of the IAEA to merely discuss the steps required to be taken in order to “begin” implementing the 1995 decision. In other words, Russia and the United States, supported by European nuclear countries – Britain and France – have forced upon the decision taken in 1995 – which originally concerns IsraelIran's nuclear issue, thus establishing a new link between the two issues. This is in the sense that these countries have linked the implementation of this 1995 decision – which had been a “reward” given the Arabs for retracting their insistence on Israel becoming party to the NPT as a precondition for extending the treaty – to the Iranian nuclear issue, which had been put forth within the formula of trade-offs and incentives or sanctions by a UN Security Council resolution.
In 1995, Amr Moussa was Egypt's Foreign Minister, and he had back then led the demand for Israel to join the NPT, as he led the retraction of such insistence following tremendous pressures on the higher leaderships in Cairo as well as on the delegations in New York. This time, when the Arab League received the Russian-American document, it merely turned it over to the delegations in New York, instead calling for swift action at the highest levels to formulate scenarios and strategies supporting the negotiations of these delegations. It would have been more appropriate for the League of Arab States to call ministers to a group brainstorming workshop and to urge them to head to New York in throngs to be present at the conference continuously at the level of ministers, so as for the scene not to be devoid of serious Arab contribution to these discussions. “Submitting” a copy of the list of recommendations to the Arab delegations at the United Nations reflects a dangerous lack of seriousness in the way the Arabs are addressing this important issue.
Even Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit will be absent from the conference, despite the fact that its UN Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz, who heads the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), is promoting in every forum Egypt's demand that the NPT Review Conference in New York approve of a regional conference in Cairo to “begin negotiations” over establishing the zone free from nuclear weapons – this in the presence of Iran, Israel and the Arab states together with the main nuclear countries, i.e. the United States, Britain and Russia.
Those three countries are expressing their willingness to accept the idea of such a conference, however under the condition that it takes place without a mechanism for negotiations as well as without a timeframe that would be imposed on Israel for dealing with the goal of this conference.
Israel is eluding everything and is content with demanding what it calls “trust-building measures”. As for Iran, it does not want the conference which Egypt is calling for, under the pretext that it refuses to sit down with Israel. It also opposes it because it finds in the New York conference fertile soil for it to wage several campaigns and to hit several birds with one stone. Indeed, Iran is wagering on the Arabs yielding to US demands, especially as they are now backed by Russia. It also finds in the conference a golden opportunity to turn the attention away from the Iranian nuclear issue and towards nuclear Israel.
The Barack Obama Administration is aware of all of this and is sending to the conference a large delegation which will be headed at the beginning by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and which may witness the surprise appearance of either President Barack Obama or Vice president Joe Biden. Indeed, this administration has placed nuclear security at the forefront of its international concerns and is extremely keen on the success of the Review Conference of the NPT in New York following the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington.
What the Obama Administration will do in the month of May in New York, and in world capitals, will be to move on two parallel tracks: that of gathering support for the resolution to strengthen sanctions against Iran at the Security Council if the pressures of sanctions fail to convince Tehran to agree to negotiate and to implement UN resolutions… and that of preventing the NPT Review Conference from being reduced to a conference against Israel.
What can the Arabs do? Indeed, they are faced with: either (a) doing away with the 1995 decision (reward) if they agree to the US-Russian “recommendations” or (b) showing flexibility and working towards face-saving modifications in compliance with international pressures and with Obama's need for this conference to succeed – him being the man working and exerting efforts to achieve Arab-Israeli peace.
Perhaps there are “creative” ideas and suggestions which the Arabs should either think of, or ask Russian-American-European diplomacy to think of, or both. This would require active Arab participation instead of hiding behind fingers and fleeing forwards to avoid confrontation and requirements. Let then the Arab ministers come to New York, for there to be constant Arab presence at the highest levels, and for the Arab League to take the initiative – even if very late – of including the participation of experts through urgent seminars and workshops and to put forth creative ideas.

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