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Establishing Middle East as Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Would Help Bring Durable Peace to Strife-Torn Region, Advance Global Security, Speakers Say as Conference Opens

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Ridding the Middle East of its nuclear arsenal will help bring lasting peace to the chronically strife‑torn region and make the world a safer, more secure place, the United Nations Secretary‑General said today, as he opened the second session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

“States must join forces and seek every opportunity to ease tensions, resolve conflicts and build lasting peace and security.  This Conference represents one such initiative and could bring tangible benefits to the Middle East region and beyond,” António Guterres said.

The Conference, which aims to form a legally binding treaty to establish the zone, was first held in November 2019, following a request for such a gathering at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non‑Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The Secretary-General noted that since 1967, five nuclear-weapon-free zones have been declared worldwide, including 60 per cent of Member States and covering almost all of the southern hemisphere.  Expanding such zones to more regions will strengthen global nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation norms.  It will also contribute to building a safer world, particularly in the Middle East where concerns over nuclear programmes persist, and conflicts and civil wars are causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, undermining stability and disrupting socioeconomic development.

“I reiterate my call upon all parties to exercise restraint and avoid escalation,” he said, stressing that the return to dialogue for the full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action is an important step.  Further, the perpetrators of chemical attacks must be identified and held accountable.

Achieving a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone will eliminate the possibility of nuclear conflicts in the region and strengthen international bans on chemical and biological weapons, he said.  It will also deescalate regional arms races and free up much-needed resources to tackle COVID‑19 and climate change, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, he added, calling for strong political will and international community support to transform the vision of a nuclear‑weapon‑free zone in the Middle East into a reality.

Mansour Ayyad Sh. A. Alotaibi (Kuwait), President of the Conference, stressed the importance of moving forward in an open, inclusive approach to establish such a zone in the Middle East.  Unfortunately, due to restrictions brought on by the pandemic, several Member States, international organizations and civil society groups were unable to join the meeting in person, he said, expressing gratitude to those present for their determination, work and support in moving the Conference forward.

Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, noted the pandemic has reminded the global community of its shared destiny and its obligations to work together and shape a better future — one that is more peaceful, just and more secure.

States have continued to invest, innovate and build nuclear weapons, noting that 15,000 nuclear weapons remain within their stockpiles, he said.  One State’s possession of nuclear weapons incentivizes others to produce them, resulting in a security dilemma that threatens to envelop the entire world in a mushroom cloud.  In that regard, nuclear disarmament and non‑proliferation regimes remain futile in ensuring that such an intolerable reality never manifests.

Pointing out that to date, five regions have established nuclear‑weapon‑free zones — Latin America and the Caribbean, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa and Central Asia — he expressed hope that the Middle East would follow suit.  Given the complex geopolitics of the latter, reaching just settlements that can satisfy all parties will require sound diplomacy and negotiations based on good faith.  As the General Assembly mandated a nuclear‑weapon‑free Middle East in 1974, he voiced hope that the second Conference will result in a significant breakthrough towards that call.

The successes of regional efforts will draw from global non‑proliferation efforts, he said, citing the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and the renewal of the Treaty between The United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START).

Despite progress, he said more Member States must join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to ensure its universal adherence, and not enough States have signed and ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear‑Test‑Ban Treaty 25 years after its adoption.  The upcoming 2020 Non‑Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to be held 4‑28 January 2022 provides an opportunity to review commitments and make meaningful progress in efforts towards non‑proliferation, nuclear disarmament, and peaceful uses of energy.

The Conference will reconvene on Tuesday, 30 November at 10 a.m. to continue its work.

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