On Wednesday at a press conference in Moscow following talks with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia advocated a nuclear free status for the Middle East. Russia supports the idea of establishing zones free of nuclear weapons in different regions, a position that London shares.
Nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is an important issue in international politics. At the center of it are Iran's "nuclear dossier" which has not been closed yet and the issue whether Iraq ever had nuclear programs or not. For decades, Israel has also neither refuted nor confirmed reports that it is developing nuclear weapons.
Prior to talks with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who is currently visiting Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that Israel possessed all types of defensive weapons. However, Israel is the only country in the region that has not joined the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
There are two major components to the nonproliferation problem. First, terrorists can obtain WMD. Second, the nuclear arms race could ignite regional conflicts. The conflict between India and Pakistan and the conflict between Israel and the Arab countries and Iran are the most striking evidence of the latter.
Diplomats believe that once the conflicts in the Middle East are resolved, the countries in the region will stop seeking WMD. Therefore, Russia supports Egypt's initiative to make the Middle East a WMD free zone. It should be recalled that Egypt and the Shah's Iran proposed a similar idea at the United Nations General Assembly in 1974. The Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) working group was set up shortly after the opening round of the Middle East peace process in Madrid in 1991. However, the group has suspended its activities and according to experts, it can only resume them if countries in the region develop greater mutual trust.
Mohammed Shaker, the chairman of Egypt's Council of Foreign Affairs, told a RIA Novosti analyst when he was visiting Moscow in the fall of 2003 that the project to create nuclear free zones in the region required Iran and Israel's participation. However, this will most likely not happen in the near future. Both countries continue accusing each other of developing WMD and resemble the South Asian "duo" of India and Pakistan in this respect.
Mr. ElBaradei said that the Middle East peace process should be accompanied by the regional countries' denouncing WMD, an approach that is also supported by Russia. Israel insists that the possibility of creating nuclear free zones should be discussed after it signs peace treaties with the neighboring Arab countries and possibly Iran. The Iranian authorities argue that Iran, unlike Israel, is party to the NPT.
However, the proponents of the idea of nuclear free zones in the region have not abandoned hope completely. Indeed, Libya has renounced its WMD program and others may follow. Yet, the suspects should first acknowledge that they actually have WMD programs.
Meanwhile, the WMD problem continues to dominate international politics, as there is no evidence whatsoever that certain countries or even groups have WMD. However, the rumors that they may possess WMD fuel tensions and can even cause armed conflicts.