Application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle East

Yesterday in a session that adjourned at 8 pm, the plenary voted in favour for a resolution on the application of Agency safeguards in the Middle East. The resolution, sponsored by Egypt and tabled annually since the early 90s, has recently become an annual stikcing point for the conference. Virtually all other formal meetings scheduled in afternoon sessions were adjourned so that delegates can join the plenary for the vote.

Last year’s resolution had many amendments and counter-amendments tabled from the floor with endless rounds of voting. The air this year was far less confrontational and the progression to the vote was rather smooth. The outcome was part of a strong mediation effort by GC presidency (New Zealand), the US and Sweden (EU presidency). Mediation efforts took place early on with shuttle efforts between delegations and intensified through several side meetings on the sides of the conference. The US direct involvement is widely understood to have been key towards that outcome. The US, which abstained in the final vote, was very close to voting in favour of the draft proposed. Their final decision to abstain was taken in direct consultation with Washington.

A separate vote was requested by Israel on the operative paragraph two. The paragraph calls upon all countries in the region, without naming any, to accede to the NPT. 104 countries voted for the paragraph with 4 abstentions while Israel voted against. It is noteworthy that Pakistan voted in favour of the paragraph. Pakistanis are usually reluctant, in many fora including the GC, to endorse language supporting the NPT. India with similar concerns abstained. It is not clear what was behind the Pakistani vote on the NPT language in the session.

The main amendment this year involved article 9 the subject of which is a source of regional contestation. The Israeli position insists on a sequential approach to the establishment of the nuclear weapons free zone. In Israel’s view efforts for establishment of the zone should only follow comprehensive peace and reconciliation in the region. On the other hand, it is the view of Arab countries that efforts towards the zone should run in tandem with the peace process and can even support and strengthen the drive towards peace. The resolution adopted carefully worded the differences as follows: ‘ Mindful of the importance of establishing the Middle East as a nuclear weapons free zone, an in this context, emphasizing the importance of establishing peace therein ‘. While this language does not conclusively settle the issue, it was this formulation that allowed 103 votes for the resolution, none against and 4 abstentions and consequently its adoption.