UN chief calls for nukes free Middle East

Can a nuclear or WMD-free zone work in a politically contested and chaotic Middle East?

Two countries in the region — Israel and Iran — already have nuclear capabilities. Last August, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first Arab country to open a nuclear power plant, raising concerns about the long-term consequences of introducing more nuclear programs to the Middle East.

The UN Secretary General on Monday called on all Middle East States to transform the vision of a region with no nuclear weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction, into a working reality.

Antonio Guterres was speaking in New York at the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Since 1967, five such zones have been established around the world: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia. They include 60 percent of all UN Member States and cover almost all of the Southern Hemisphere.

For the Secretary-General, expanding such zones would help build a safer world.

“That is particularly the case in the Middle East, where concerns over nuclear programs persist, and where conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting social and economic development”, Mr. Guterres explained.

AN OBSERVER COMMENTS: Can a nuclear or WMD-free zone work in a politically contested and chaotic Middle East? Will including chemical and biological weapons help or hurt in the creation of such a zone? Are Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey ready for such a deal? Is the region capable of coming together over WMD prohibitions with contention between Iran and the Persian Gulf states and differences in Algeria and Morocco, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen? Is the return of Iran and the United States to the JCPOA necessary to succeed? Can key JCPOA provisions be used to build the nuclear aspects of such a deal? Is a regional approach achievable? Can a sub-regional approach without Israel be achieved, possibly as a first stage of a regional approach? Is a more universal approach, filling the “hole” in the NPT by using commitments from the JCPOA on inspections and limits to uranium enrichment and no separation of plutonium, a possibility to enhance a regional approach? Will global powers cooperate?