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Nuke Free Mideast Conference in Limbo

UNITED NATIONS, May 7 2014 (IPS) - With lingering doubts about the long-delayed international conference for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, a Finnish diplomat said there has been progress in getting the event underway.

“We have had three consultation sessions in Glion, Switzerland and that’s the first time in 19 years the parties in the Middle East have sat at the same table discussing this particular security issue,” Ambassador Lars Backström, the deputy facilitator of the Helsinki Conference, said Monday.

The conference is scheduled to take place in the Finnish capital of Helsinki in a yet-undetermined date.

The decision to hold the conference was taken during the 2010 Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), with the UK, U.S., Russia and the U.N. Secretary-General designated as organisers.

The conference was scheduled for 2012 but was postponed due to the political situation in the Middle East and the inability within the region to reach an agreement on the conditions of the conference, according to the U.S. Department of State.

During a panel discussion here, Backström clarified rumours of a December date for the conference.

“You may or may not have heard about a date in December but I have to disappoint you and say there is no agreement on a date. We have talked about June, October and December as possible timeslots,” he said

Backström said it was up to the participating countries to agree on all outstanding issues first.

“The next steps will be consultations in Geneva in mid-May and this time it will be under the U.N. umbrella. Glion was not under the U.N. umbrella and a few countries have said this is very important,” he said.

Backström praised the Glion consultations and said that it provided an opportunity to find out where the countries stood and their differences – specifically on issues relating to the agenda, modalities, roles and procedures.

“Participants have been very actively involved and constructive. They have been ready to engage and the discussions have been open and constructive,” he said.

He noted that the chief facilitator of the conference, Jaakko Laajaya, had been involved in 400 to 500 facilitations, consultations and meetings.

The Finnish Ambassador also added that due to the amount of divergent views there was still a lot more work to be done and that compromise was a necessary factor for progress on the issue.

Also speaking at the panel, executive director of FW de Klerk Foundation in Cape Town, Dave Steward said that peace could be achieved through “the acceptance of very painful compromises that peace inevitably requires from all parties.”

Steward commented on South Africa’s success as the only country to have voluntarily dismantled its nuclear capabilities through agreements by all involved parties that there could not be an armed solution.

He said that this mentality needed to be recognised in the Middle East for a solution to be reached.

“The Middle East parties need to accept that there can be no armed solution and there needs to be a genuine commitment by all parties for a negotiated settlement.”

Michèle Auga the executive director of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in New York, one of the co-sponsors of the discussion, said that the three factors in reaching a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East were trust, sequencing and the role of regional outside actors.

On April 30 the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Laajaya to reaffirm their commitment to convene the conference. They appealed to Middle Eastern states to continue their constructive engagement, including the preparatory meetings in Geneva.

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