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Iran: Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None.
by Rene Wadlow
2010-05-11 07:38:01
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On 17-18 April 2010, the Islamic Republic of Iran organized a conference on nuclear-weapons in Tehran with “Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None” as its title.  The conference was attended by representatives of 60 countries, but some of the representatives were from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and academics rather than government representatives.  According to a Russian participant, the final statement of the conference was not discussed by the participants and only reflected the position of the Iranian organizers.  The statement called for the creation of a Middle East Nuclear-weapon Free Zone and the abolition of nuclear weapons starting with those of the USA and Russia which together hold some 90 per cent of nuclear weapons.


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came on 3 May to the start of the Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) at the UN in New York, the only Head of State to do so.  He repeated the Iranian position that their nuclear program is to generate electricity, not to develop nuclear weapons.  He is also called for a Nuclear-weapon free Middle East, for Israel to join the NPT and lashed out at the USA for failing to take disarmament measures.


Some delegates have hoped to avoid the Iranian nuclear issues from becoming the main focus of the conference yet it is probable that the nuclear program of Iran and the possibility of a Middle East Nuclear-weapon Free Zone will be the core issue of the NPT Review even if national politics and regional developments are not the main aim of the Review Conferences held every five years.  The 2005 Review Conference went badly and ended without an agreed upon “Final Document”.  Thus there is pressure for the 2010 Review Conference to make compromises so that a Final Document can be agreed upon by all States participating.


One possible approach would be to agree to have a conference in 2011 on a Nuclear-weapon Free Middle East.  Pushing issues into the future in the hope that situations may improve between now and then is an oft-used diplomatic technique.  Egypt which currently chairs the 118-member Non-aligned Movement has made such a proposition.  Egypt, which chaired a previous NPT Review Conference, has always played an important role both in the original negotiations leading to the Treaty and in the Review Conferences. (1) Egypt is likely to be the key non-nuclear-weapon State in the Review Conference.  Egypt has developed a “plan of action” to eliminate all nuclear weapons, a plan which other States among the Non-aligned are likely to support.


There will be three separate currents of pressure on Egypt, and it will be important to watch how the Egyptian diplomats deal with these currents.  One current will come from a joint USA-Russia (and allies) saying “Everything is fine.  Progress is being made to reduce the number of nuclear weapons — look at the new START agreement signed in Prague. We need a smooth NPT Review which should not be upset by bringing in political issues which cannot be solved in a month-long conference in any case.” The US and Russian Ambassadors to the UN have had a joint press conference saying about that.


There will be pressure from the rising Middle East regional network: Iran-Iraq- Turkey-Syria with Iran as the key power.  The two strongest States in the network, Iran and Turkey, are both non-Arab Middle East States and are resented and feared by the Arab countries.  Iraq and Syria in the network are Arab States but are weak in contrast to the Iran-Turkey combination.  The Iran-Iraq-Turkey-Syria network (not really a union) is the coming regional power. Can one be a regional power without nuclear weapons? Are there other ways of being granted by the “international community” a ‘regional power’ status such as joining the G20 or creating a regional economic union?  Will Turkey drop its effort to join the European Union in order to redevelop a new “Ottoman Empire” in partnership with Iran? These are key political questions, and Egypt is close enough to the network to “know the way the wind is blowing”. There is a hope that possession of nuclear weapons should not be an instrument for enhancing regional or global influence or political and economic leverage. However, for the moment, the world’s four Great Powers — USA, Russia, China, and India — all have nuclear weapons.


The third current of pressure on Egypt is that of the other Arab States which fear Iran, certainly do not wish to see a nuclear weapon Iran and do not particularly like the Turks.


While the NPT Reviews were originally designed to study how the Treaty was being applied concerning the three pillars – non-proliferation, disarmament, access to nuclear energy for peaceful uses -  the Reviews have always been strongly influenced by immediate political factors — USA-Soviet Union relations or regional conflicts.  It is likely that 2010 will be focused on the policy of Iran and that Egypt will be the key player.


The NPT Review might serve for back stage negotiations with Iran though not directly with President Ahmadinejad. The USA would drop the idea of pushing for sanctions in the UN Security Council in exchange for Iran agreeing that the enrichment of Iranian nuclear fuel be carried out in Russia and France, then returned to Iran. The technical aspects of such an agreement are fairly simple, but power politics is always more complicated than technical matters.  The advice for this NPT Review is to watch the Egyptian Sphinx.


(1)     see Mohammed Shaker. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (New York: Oceana Publications,1980).  Shaker was one of the Egyptian diplomats drafting the NPT, and he chaired the 1985 Review Conference in Geneva. He had taken a break in his diplomatic work to write a PhD thesis at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva. The book is a slightly revised version of the thesis. He had invited me to the defense of his thesis and so I had read it at that time. It is a blow by blow account of the negotiations of the NPT and thus of real value for those interested in the techniques of negotiations.  Shaker is currently Chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs and no doubt an advisor on NPT issues to the Egyptian government. 



*Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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