x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Diplomats adopt Arab League resolutions on non-proliferation

Two Arab League resolutions designed to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons have been adopted.

NEW YORK // Diplomats have adopted two Arab League resolutions designed to rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons and halt the spread of potentially devastating technology across the region. Arab countries have long called for the elimination of Israel's assumed stockpiles of nuclear weapons and, more recently, closer scrutiny of Iran's isotope enrichment programme.

Delegates to the United Nations committee on disarmament and global security passed by consensus last week a draft resolution that seeks to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. The resolution calls on regional governments to "declare solemnly that they will refrain, on a reciprocal basis, from producing, acquiring or in any other way possessing nuclear weapons". It further suggests countries "agree to place their nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and to declare their support for the establishment of the zone".

A second draft resolution sponsored by the UAE and other League members intended to tackle the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the region was passed by vote, with the approval of 159 out of 192 UN members. The document notes that Israel is the only country in the region that has not become party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and calls on non-signatories to accept the "international legally binding commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons".

Seven nations abstained from the vote, while Israel, the United States and three Pacific island nations voted against the resolution. Other UN members were absent from Wednesday's polling. Advocates of the nuclear weapons-free zone goal say IAEA inspectors would monitor and safeguard a zone encompassing the 22-country Arab League, Iran and Israel, eliminating nuclear weapons, weapons-usable material and technology. The watchdog would permit peaceful atomic activities like energy production.

Analysts point out that resolutions from committees of the General Assembly, unlike those of the Security Council, are not binding in international law and only represent an ethical standard. The nuclear weapons-free zone resolution has been adopted annually since 1974 and the region is no closer to being realised now than it was 34 years ago. Some experts argue that the nuclear work of Iran, together with the nuclear energy projects of other Arab governments, makes the nuclear weapons-free zone goal ever more distant.

Officially, Israel neither confirms nor denies whether it possesses nuclear weapons. Tehran says it is developing enrichment technology to produce nuclear energy for civilian purposes. jreinl@thenational.ae