The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries back Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology for peaceful use, but oppose any weaponization program, said several participants at a two-day conference debating ‘Gulf as a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ)’ that ended in Dubai on Wednesday.
The workshop entitled – ‘Laying the Foundations for a Gulf WMDFZ: Approaches to National Legislation for WMD Agreements’ – emphasized the principle of a Gulf WMDFZ as an important first step toward making a Middle East WMDFZ at a critical time for the region.
The effort to take the issue from a sub-regional level to regional level with the ultimate intention of pressuring Israel to denuclearize was organized by the Dubai-based independent think tank Gulf Research Center (GRC). The discussions involved high-level officials from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Iran, Iraq and Yemen, as well as international arms control experts.
Iran, which is under international pressure to suspend nuclear enrichment and has been referred to the Security Council, said it supports the idea of Gulf WMD-free zone as long as the Middle East WMDFZ was not undermined. At the same time, it sought a new regional security architecture that defines a mechanism of tackling threat perceptions and pushed for the withdrawal of international troops from the region.
The GCC participants argued that while they are not in favor of any UN-imposed political, economic or diplomatic sanctions, and certainly opposed to military action against Iran, they have very little scope to avoid any adverse actions contemplated by the United States and Israel.
The workshop was co-hosted by VERTIC (The Verification Research, Training and Information Centre) – an independent non-governmental organization promoting national implementation of WMD agreements. VERTIC’s project is funded by the Global Opportunities Fund, administered by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In his opening remarks, the GRC Chairman, Abdulaziz Sager, said, “This project envisages better security and stability in the region and spares the risks of an arms race, thereby allowing the governments in the Gulf to focus on developmental issues for a better future.”
“We are happy that this idea is gaining interest at the official level. With several leaders in the region endorsing the plan, we hope it will soon become a Track I project,” he added.
During the Track II discussion, Iran said it was among the first in the region to call for a Middle East nuclear-free zone in 1974, but the current crisis is a result of the international community “depriving” the Islamic republic of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes for 27 years.
If the international community guarantees Iran the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful use, Tehran is ready to lift the carte blanche on its program, an Iranian delegate said. However, any comprehensive treaty should include conventional arms as well, suggested Iran.
International experts argued that joining the Gulf WMD-Free Zone does not deny Iran the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful use.
Iran also called for developing a mechanism that encourages mutual trust and a collective system in the region with confidence building measures that address political, social, economic, and security dynamics.
While the GCC countries said that they do not ignore Israel’s nuclear program, they argued that Iran should not use Israel as an excuse to develop nuclear weapons because it not only encourages an arms race in the region, but also leaves the GCC countries in the crossfire of a nuclear competition. The worrying threat posed by non-state actors and the possibility of them acquiring such weapons was also discussed.
While most delegates agreed that the current deadlock mandated direct talks between the United States and Iran, some suggested that geographical proximity necessitated the GCC countries to also be involved in the negotiations.
On the second day of the workshop, VERTIC experts made presentations on key aspects of laws pertaining to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons law. Further, an IAEA representative and a UN Security Council Resolution 1540 expert also presented papers. The ensuing discussions allowed regional delegates concerned with these issues in their own countries to pose questions and identify areas in which technical/legal assistance is needed from such organizations in order to implement national legislation.