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Assistant Secretary Countryman on Middle East Issues
May 11, 2012

Remarks by Thomas Countryman
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
First Session of the Preparatory Committee, 2015 Review Conference of the States Parties
to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
Vienna, Austria
May 8, 2012

Middle East Issues

Thank you Mr. Chairman,

The United States fully supports the goal of a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction. This support is unequivocal and I can assure you that my government is prepared to take practical measures that can move us toward this goal. A Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction is an achievable goal, but a long-term goal. It will not occur overnight or without a concerted effort in the region and internationally to make it a reality. Just as our efforts to seek peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons will not be realized quickly, we understand that a WMD free zone in the Middle East can only be achieved once essential conditions are in place, most critically a comprehensive and durable peace and full compliance by all countries in the region with their nonproliferation obligations.

We remain committed to the objectives of the Resolution on the Middle East adopted at the NPT Review and Extension Conference. The United States has consistently demonstrated its readiness to address the serious issues standing in the way of ridding the region of all weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. Since the adoption of the Middle East Resolution in 1995, the United States has worked with other concerned parties to help build the confidence needed to address the underlying security issues in a way that could give rise to real, constructive progress. We also continue to address the multiple instances of Treaty non-compliance that have arisen from the region. If not appropriately addressed by member states, these cases of non-compliance threaten not only prospects for a Middle East free of WMD but also the very credibility of the NPT.

Mr. Chairman, the United States will continue to work with the other cosponsors of the 1995 Resolution and the regional parties to fulfill our commitment made at the 2010 Review Conference to convene a Conference on the Establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. Such a Conference has the potential to foster official dialogue on regional security issues where none currently exists.

The United States has full confidence in Under Secretary Laajava and welcomes his report. We commend him for his diligent work and extensive consultations to date and have no doubt that he, together with the conveners, will continue to advance the procedural steps necessary for holding a Conference. However, neither Under Secretary Laajava nor the conveners can make the Conference a reality and a success unless the regional states begin now to take the political steps to create the conditions necessary for a successful and constructive Conference.

In this regard, I would like to restate the views President Obama expressed in 2010 regarding what might contribute to a successful Conference. First, a Conference can only take place if all countries feel confident that they can attend; continued efforts to single out Israel or any other State will make a Conference increasingly less likely. All regional parties must attend the conference on an equal basis, regardless of their status vis-a-vis the various international arms control treaties. Second, for the Conference to be constructive, its purpose should be to exchange views on a broad agenda, including regional security issues, adherence, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery. Third, the Conference should draw its mandate from the countries in the region in keeping with the internationally recognized principle that regional zones must be based on arrangements freely arrived at by states in the region and should originate from the region itself. A zone cannot be imposed from the outside or mandated by a decision of the NPT review process. Finally, to ensure the Conference takes into account the views of all regional participants, the Conference must operate by consensus of the regional countries, to include agreement on any possible further discussions or follow-up actions, which logically can only take place with the consent of those countries.

Our approach should be one of setting realistic expectations and encouraging serious engagement on a difficult set of issues. A successful Conference can lead to a continuing process. An unsuccessful Conference cannot lead to a process. And the success of the Conference depends primarily upon the efforts of the states of the Middle East, in the next few months, to lay the groundwork for full participation and consensus of regional states.

To plan for a successful Conference it will be necessary to address the lack of confidence among regional states that all in the region are ready to approach the key issues in a constructive manner. The ability of the facilitator and conveners to foster this confidence is extremely limited. The states of the region themselves must take responsibility. All regional states must work together and engage each other directly, at a political level, to address this lack of confidence, and take steps to assure each other that the Conference would address this issue in a constructive manner. If the regional states view this Conference as just another venue to repeat the same political points and arguments we have heard in various multilateral fora for years, if they continue to place a higher priority on confrontation than on cooperation, they will have squandered a unique opportunity.

Mr. Chairman, we would be remiss if we did not take into consideration the historic events unfolding in the region. The political atmosphere and security situation in the region in 2012 are much different from those of May 2010.

2011 and the first few months of 2012 have witnessed many significant and historic developments in the Middle East. Egypt and Tunisia are going through the beginning stages of establishing new democratic governments. Yemen is undergoing a fragile transition. Libya is just beginning to emerge from decades of Qaddafi rule and the Asad regime in Syria reminds us of the brutal and inhuman lengths to which some will go to maintain their hold on power.

The timing and pace of these fundamental political shifts will be a factor in determining how to move forward on the Helsinki Conference in a manner that is most conducive to a constructive dialogue and positive outcome.

Likewise, we cannot ignore the corrosive effect of Treaty non-compliance on efforts to rid the region of weapons of mass destruction and on the Treaty itself. Implementation of the 1995 Resolution is inextricably linked to efforts to address cases of Treaty compliance in the region. States in the region must be able to trust that others will fulfill their international obligations. Since the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, most of the cases of NPT non-compliance have come from the Middle East. Currently, two states in the region, Iran and Syria, are in noncompliance with their nonproliferation obligations and have failed to take the necessary steps to address international concerns about the true nature and scope of their nuclear activities.

We join the international community in expressing deep concern over Iran’s persistent failure to comply with its nonproliferation obligations, including IAEA safeguards obligations and UN Security Council resolutions. We welcome the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, begun in Istanbul April 14. We seek a sustained process that produces concrete results, and expect Iran to bring to the table the same serious and constructive attitude that the 6 partners bring. The NPT forms a key basis, together with the resolutions of the UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors, for what must be serious engagement on Iran’s nuclear program, to ensure that Iran meets all of its nonproliferation obligations. To be clear, Iran’s engagement with the P5+1 is separate from the equally urgent obligation for Iran to cooperate fully with the verification efforts of the IAEA. Iran continues to delay and obstruct that process, and has not agreed to grant the IAEA access to all relevant sites, materials, information, documents and personnel necessary to resolve questions about its nuclear program, including concerns about its possible military dimensions reported by the IAEA in November 2011. Iran is not fully implementing all of its responsibilities under its safeguards agreement, in particular the modified Code 3.1. We stress the urgent need for Iran to engage directly with the IAEA on the Agency’s concerns and reach agreement on a structured approach, based on IAEA verification practices, to resolve all outstanding issues.

IAEA Director General Amano reported in May 2011 that the facility destroyed in 2007 at Dair Alzour, Syria was “very likely” an undeclared nuclear reactor. Consequently, in June 2011 the IAEA Board of Governors found Syria in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement and, in accordance with the IAEA Statute, referred the matter to the UN Security Council. To date, Syria has not taken any concrete steps to provide the access sought by the IAEA to additional locations or address the outstanding questions about its clandestine nuclear activities.

It is critically important that Iran and Syria fully cooperate with the IAEA and return to full compliance with the NPT and their safeguards agreements. And, as agreed in the 2010 Action Plan, it is vitally important that all NPT Parties support the resolution of all cases of noncompliance with IAEA safeguards and other nonproliferation requirements. The Treaty and the regime are only as strong as the Parties’ will to maintain the Treaty’s integrity.

Mr. Chairman, our approach to implementing the 1995 Resolution is based on realism, and on an objective assessment of the obstacles that must be overcome to make real progress towards ridding the region of all weapons of mass destruction. These obstacles are not insurmountable, but they cannot be ignored. Failing to acknowledge and address the underlying political and security realities in the region will diminish the prospects for a successful conference in Helsinki, and will ensure that our shared objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction remains an elusive goal.