As has been mentioned number of times during this event, the timing of the Conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of WMD that was planned to be held this December has been readjusted. The conveners of the Conference released their respective statements on this for three weeks ago which made it apparent that we would need to start looking for new dates.
These announcements led to a number of reactions, for the most part disappointed ones, both in the Middle East region and elsewhere. These sentiments have also been echoed at this event here in Helsinki. This is understandable as the anticipation for the Conference was quite high in the region and globally as well. Finland equally regrets that it was not possible to convene the Conference as planned.
As things stand, it is important to take a look at where we are, what has been accomplished, and how to continue from here. And what the civil society can do to assist with the next steps.
Firstly, it is important to note that the broad support for the convening of a successful Conference is still very much there. This has been clearly expressed by the conveners in the statements. We remain convinced that the will of the regional states to work towards the zone has neither vanished. The facilitator will continue doing his utmost to prepare ground for a successful Conference.
It is also noteworthy how the awareness of the zone initiative has risen throughout the past year. This is something we can build on. A clear indication of this is not only the views expressed by governments, but also the dozens of events organized by civil society, think-tanks, and academia. This plenitude of events and ideas has greatly contributed to the facilitation efforts by providing food for thought and new perspectives to the task at our hands. We are very grateful for this.
An important factor that shouldn´t be forgotten is that the initiative of the zone emanates from the Middle East region. This is an initiative that carries with it the weight of hard work put into getting this far during the past forty years. It was Iran, together with Egypt, that brought the initiative to the international arena in the early 1970’s. We have come closer of this initiative bearing fruit in the form of a Conference, and the readjustment of timing is hopefully not an insurmountable obstacle on this long road.
While in no way overlooking the severe challenges of the Middle East region, we hope that the past year has served the purpose of solidifying the underlying motivation for working towards the establishment of a zone. The envisaged Conference seeks to launch a long term process which builds on the willingness of the parties to work towards their shared goal of achieving such a zone. The Conference is to be attended by all states of the region as well as the nuclear-weapon states, and be based on arrangements freely arrived at by the participating regional states. The way forward can only be decided upon by the regional participants themselves.
Viewed in a broader perspective, the process could gradually evolve into a more comprehensive framework for improved security and stability in the whole region and provide an important vehicle for dialogue and cooperation. At the same time it is important to acknowledge that the Conference or it´s follow-up are not supposed to replace any other forum nor substitute any negotiations regarding the region’s unresolved issues.
Stability and security form the necessary bedrock for the growth of prosperity and well-being. Therefore it is encouraging that the goal of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery is supported by all states of the region. However, views differ on how and in what timeframe to achieve this goal. Everyone does, though, agree that the zone cannot be created overnight. Some regard achieving peace as a prerequisite to the establishment of the zone, while others emphasize the primacy of the latter as paving the way for peace.
A middle way between these two differing views can be found through the recognition of the intertwined nature of progress in both areas. Progress in arms control and steps towards peace have to be mutually reinforcing.
As the consultation process proceeded through 2012, it became evident that there is a broad interest in the zone initiative and the facilitation process. This was demonstrated e.g. by the numerous invitations to events and seminars the facilitator received, as well as contributions such as academic research papers and proposals provided to support the facilitation. These contributions were and still are very welcome.
The facilitator is grateful for all input that civil society actors have provided. The civil society is essential in raising awareness and providing food for thought in the process. All the encouragement available should be conveyed to the states of the region to better communicate among each other and in that way lay ground for a successful Conference. Civil society can have a role to play in this.
There will certainly be civil society events also in the margins of the Conference itself, once convened. Today´s event was originally planned to be one. As regards organizational details, we have to get back to them closer to the Conference.
It is with these thoughts – the commitment of the conveners, the will of the regional states, the increased awareness, and the broad non-governmental and extra-regional support – the facilitator intends to approach the next steps necessary for laying ground for the convening of a successful Conference. As we speak, the consultations are continuing. The facilitator has proposed the consultations to take place in a multilateral format. Finland as the Host Government is still ready to arrange the Conference in Helsinki any time convened.