On 10 October 2019, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) launched their project on the “Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ)”, on the margins of the current session of the First Committee.
Dr. Renata Dwan, the director of UNIDIR opened the event by outlining this new three-year research initiative and how it aims to contribute to efforts of addressing weapons of mass destruction threats and challenges.
Ambassador Jacek Bylica, the E.U. Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament commenced the discussion by reaffirming EU’s commitment to the project. He noted the importance of WMDFZ and stated that dialogue between the States of the region should be the only sustainable way to achieve the establishment of WMDFZ in the region.
Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, the Under-Secretary-General and UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs remarked that WMDFZ is a complex issue that needs profound thinking; comprehensive and nuanced understanding of historical processes; empathy with the perspectives of all involved; and new ideas and voices to animate dialogue and deliberations. She hoped this project could serve as a means to provide a comprehensive and impartial body of evidence to reflect on past experiences and help the dialogue move forward.
Following the two opening remarks, Dr. Chen Zak, the Project Lead introduced the four overarching objectives: research; capacity building; new ideas; and inclusive dialogue. Dr. Renata Dwan then moderated a discussion between four panelists.
Ambassador Wael Al-Assad, UNIDIR Middle East WMDFZ Senior Fellow underscored that it is a right time for this project to be carried out. He said the important issue have to be reframed multi-dimensionally, by respecting opinions and perspectives of all stakeholders involved.
Mr. Thomas Countryman, the former U.S. Acting Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security discussed several key areas where the intellectual research could make a real contribution. One valuable area of research, he suggested, was to assess and analyze elements that make the Middle East different from experiences in establishing Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones in other regions. He later added that goodwill of parties is needed to discuss the various conflicting priorities, in order to move the dialogue forward.
Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the International Organizations in Vienna elaborated on key challenges with regard to advancing WMDFZ in the Middle East. He called on all regional states as well as all nuclear weapons states including the United States to participate in the negotiation.
Ambassador Wael Al-Assad shared the view that disarmament and security are distinct issues and must be addressed separately.
Dr. Chen, at the conclusion of panel discussion, drew attention to the three-year duration of project which would allow the researchers to delve into depth of various issues, explore different narratives and engage with people in the region to identify the way forward.
In her remarks, Ambassador Sima Sami Bahous, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations and President-designate of the Conference to be held in November this year pursuant to GA decision 73/546, expressed the hope that the Conference will initiate an important process leading to achievement of the goal of establishing WMDFZ in the Middle East. To this end, she and participating states will adopt an open, transparent and inclusive approach.
Text prepared by Taiki Kohno