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  Library Treaties Non-Proliferation Treaty, Briefing 6, May 17, 1999

1999 NPT PrepCom: Briefing No 6 Zones and the Middle East

When asked how the closed debates on the Chair's working papers were going, one diplomat (outside for a smoke) said it was like passing the 34th floor: "okay so far". New York is full of skyscrapers so such analogies come easy. After the confusion and deadlock at the Second PrepCom of the NPT in 1998, diplomats attending the Third PrepCom are nervous of failure. The 2000 Review Conference will be the first real test of the strengthened review process agreed in 1995. A lot therefore hinges on having a successful and constructive meeting now, to sort out as many practical issues as possible before 2000.

So far, the first week of the PrepCom seemed to have gone well. The Chair, Ambassador Camilo

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Reyes of Colombia, had prepared carefully and took the meeting briskly through a general debate and substantive sessions on nuclear disarmament, safeguards and nuclear energy, including special attention devoted to the Middle East, the fissile materials production ban (mired in CD politicking) and practical approaches for nuclear disarmament, as called for in the 1995 programme of action. The opening debate also enabled delegations to air views on the desired outcome and 'products' (documents containing negotiated agreements) for the 2000 Conference. Underneath the businesslike atmosphere, however, there is a sense of unhealed scars and grievances, contributing to lurking beartraps: would the United States and Egypt find a way to compromise on how to address the 1995 Middle East Resolution and Israel's nuclear programme? would states cooperate in finalising the preparations for the 2000 Conference or would some throw spanners into the works to advance their other political agendas? would the PrepCom succeed this time in making recommendations on substance to the 2000 Conference, and if so, what would they say about nuclear disarmament, the South Asian tests or the Middle East?

Monday 17 May was almost entirely taken up with discussions about the role and content of the two working papers tabled by Reyes last Friday. First, however, it was agreed to include the CTBT Organisation with the regional intergovernmental organisations, such as OPANAL or the South Pacific Forum. This paved the way for the rules of procedure to be adopted.

The Chair's first paper sought agreement for recommending two basic 'products' for 2000, a forward looking 'objectives' document and a review and assessment (backward-looking) document, leaving open the question of other possible agreements. It was supported by several delegations, including Brazil, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Britain, though some had suggestions for changes. For example several regarded the paragraph on making "every effort" to adopt documents by consensus redundant, since the rules of procedure already encourage this, outlining the voting procedure under rule 28 if consensus is too elusive. France was especially adamant on the importance of consensus and again argued for a composite document based on the work of the three main committees. Mexico, Egypt and Iran, however, considered it premature to make a commitment to two principal documents. Like France (but for different reasons) they would prefer a single 'sink or swim' document, comprising both forward and backward looking elements. After many statements the delegations were no closer to agreement. The debate was therefore shelved, although Reyes may seek to resubmit a revised version later in the week.

Reyes' second Chair's paper comprised 31 paragraphs covering eight themes: universality, non-proliferation, nuclear disarmament, nuclear-weapon-free zones, security assurances, safeguards, the resolution on the Middle East and 'peaceful uses' of nuclear energy. It was intended to offer a starting point for developing recommendations on substance for the second PrepCom. Some delegations wanted to start immediate negotiations, seeking to insert their proposals into the text or delete paragraphs they did not like. Others thought it would be better to have an open discussion on the paper, but leaving it to the Chair and Secretariat to incorporate the views and revise the drafts. It is expected that negotiations on the themes will begin on Tuesday, but some delegations are still wondering where such work fits in. The recommendations from the PrepCom, even if adopted by consensus, are not binding on the Review Conference, although they could undoubtedly help to facilitate the planning and negotiations for 2000.... or not.

Nuclear Weapon Free Zones

Positive references were made to the concept of nuclear weapon free zones "freely arrived at" by the relevant states in a region, and especially to the full implementation of the NWFZ in Latin America and the Caribbean (Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (Rarotonga), Africa (Pelindaba) and South East Asia (Bangkok). Referring to problems over the protocols covering the zone of application of the security assurances expected from them, the United States said that it continued to "work intensively with the nations of Southeast Asia to fashion an approach that would permit the United States to sign the Protocol to the Treaty of Bangkok". Brazil raised its sponsorship of UNGA resolutions supporting a nuclear weapon free Southern Hemisphere and adjacent areas, noting that the initiative was receiving increasing support, with 154 votes in favour in the 1998 UN General Assembly.

More and more states, notably the United States and Britain, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Switzerland and Mongolia, have welcomed progress on the initiative by five Central Asian countries to establish a NWFZ in their region. Noting that South Asian nuclear tests had "underlined the importance of regional approaches to disarmament and nonproliferation", the Kyrgyz Republic joined Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in updating the NPT on their progress (together with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) to establish a NWFZ in Central Asia. A working paper from the five Central Asian states welcomed the continued assistance from the UN and IAEA, as well as participants from the NWS, and hoped that a treaty establishing the Central Asian NWFZ would be completed and ready for signature at the earliest date possible.

Belarus reiterated its initiative on establishing a nuclear-weapon-free space in Central and Eastern Europe, prompting a furious response from 13 others. Croatia, on behalf also of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, rejected Belarus' initiative on the grounds that there was no consensus in the region and that NWFZ "should not interfere with existing or evolving security arrangements". In a bitter exchange, Belarus queried the notion of collective security "based on a military alliance whose major strategic component is the concept of nuclear deterrence and refusal to undertake an obligation not to use nuclear weapons first" and remarked that of the 13 "three...have already become new members of the North Atlantic alliance and are bearing responsibility for barbaric bombing of sovereign Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without authorisation of the UN Security Council using, inter alia, prohibited types of weapons". Others, it noted, were seeking NATO membership.

Middle East

The NAM working paper, introduced by Indonesia, contained six paragraphs supporting the full implementation of the resolution on the Middle East, including establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. It called on Israel to accede to the NPT without further delay. The NAM also pointedly emphasised article I's prohibition on transferring nuclear devices or technology to Israel and sought to prevent any assistance in the nuclear, scientific or technological fields to Israel "as long as it remains a non-party to the Treaty and has not placed all its nuclear facilities under full-scope IAEA safeguards". The NAM statement proposed that the 2000 Review Conference should establish a subsidiary body under Main Committee II "to consider and recommend proposals on the implementation of the resolution on the Middle East..."

On behalf of the Arab States, Algeria noted that since 1995 all the Arab states had become NPT parties, leaving Israel as the sole state in the region still refusing to accede to the Treaty. The Arab States submitted a working paper which reinforced the recommendations made by the NAM paper and called on all NPT parties, particularly the NWS to "shoulder their responsibilities, extend their cooperation and exert their utmost efforts" to achieve the full implementation of the resolution on the Middle East. Statements by several Arab countries supported the NAM and Arab League positions. Egypt also demanded that a "substantive part of the report of the PrepCom" should reflect the issue in a separate section, calling on Israel to accede to the Treaty and stressing the "special responsibility of the depositary states that have co-sponsored the 1995 resolution". Egypt submitted its own working paper, for the PrepCom to transmit to the Review Conference. It proposed language relating Israel's nuclear capabilities to articles I, II, III, IV, and VII.

Many others, including Germany, on behalf of the EU, Canada, Malaysia and South Africa, made clear their support for the implementation of the 1995 resolution, which France (in a separate statement) called "an integral part of the set of four documents agreed" at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference. The EU urged "the earliest possible accession by all States in the region which have not yet done so to the NPT and to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions, as well as to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, in the pursuit of the goal of universal adherence to all these instruments..." Several others, including the United States and South Africa echoed this call. Emphasising the importance also of the Middle East Peace Process, South Africa underlined from its own experience that "with the destruction of our nuclear weapons capability came real security for ourselves and for the countries of our region". South Africa reiterated the paragraph from the New Agenda Coalition resolution to the UNGA, calling on "all three states that are nuclear weapons capable" and that have not yet acceded to the NPT to reverse their pursuit to develop and deploy nuclear weapons and "refrain from any actions which would undermine regional and international peace and security". Nigeria also reminded the Middle East states of the positive lessons learned from the successful experience of establishing the African NWFZ, including "the positive and catalytic political effect from Apartheid South Africa's successful peace process with the frontline and neighbouring African states".

Seeking to avoid the problems of 1998, the United States said that it shared the view that the goals and objectives of the 1995 Middle East resolution "remain valid until those goals are achieved", and that "Middle East issues are relevant to discussions of universality and NWFZ", as well as considering issues of universality, compliance and enhanced safeguards. The United States gave further details of its approach, declaring that "to promote further adherence [to the NPT] the United States, by law and policy, does not engage in nuclear cooperation with non-parties to the Treaty". Noting again problems of Iraqi non-compliance and the South Asian tests, the United States said that "we see that the challenges facing the NPT require the review process to look beyond a single region and focus on issues across the board". They must now be hoping that the election of Ehud Barak as Israel's new Prime Minister will herald a more positive approach to the peace process and regional security and non-proliferation issues.

Written by Rebecca Johnson with assistance from Nicola Butler