Broad global support for Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone, says UN official

21 November 2011

Broad international support exists for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, although there are long-standing differences of opinion about it among the region’s countries, the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today.

The Agency opened a two-day forum today in Vienna to discuss how the experience gained through the established nuclear-weapon-free zones could be relevant to the Middle East, ahead of a conference to be held next year in Finland to advance the issue.

There are five existing nuclear-weapon-free zones, covering a total of 113 countries: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, South-east Asia, Africa, and Central Asia.

All nuclear-weapon-free zones prohibit the development, stationing or testing of nuclear weapons in their respective regions, and provide for IAEA verification of the non-diversion of nuclear material, according to IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano.

“They have brought real security benefits, both regionally and to the whole world,” he told the forum. “I have long been convinced that nuclear-weapon-free zones are a highly relevant and effective means of non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament.”

He noted that in establishing and implementing nuclear-weapon-free zones, the countries concerned have learned the importance of dialogue. It is his hope, he added, that the meeting will help to promote dialogue on a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.

“There is broad international support for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. But, among countries of the Middle East region and beyond, there are also long-standing differences of view related to the establishment of such a zone and the application of comprehensive Agency safeguards to all nuclear activities in the region,” he stated.

“The forum provides a unique opportunity for us all to learn about, compare and discuss experience and practice to date,” said Mr. Amano.

“I hope it will nurture fresh thinking – creative thinking – on the possible relevance of the experience of the five existing nuclear-weapon-free zones to the Middle East.”

The forum will include briefings and interactive discussion of the lessons gained in establishing and maintaining the five existing zones, which cover large inhabited areas and are designed to ensure the total absence of nuclear weapons from the territories of the States party to them.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones have also been established in certain uninhabited areas – Antarctica, outer space and the sea bed.

 

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