Conference on Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons,
AM Meeting

Middle East Violence Could Prompt Dangerous Expansion of Conflict to Wider Region, Disarmament Chief Warns, as Conference to Create Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Begins

Against the backdrop of escalating violence in the Middle East, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs today warned of a dangerous expansion of the conflict in the wider region during the opening of the fourth session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Izumi Nakamitsu, addressing the Conference on behalf of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said she came to the Conference “with a heavy heart, anguish, pain and sorrow that I had never felt in my more than 30 years of UN career.” She noted the minute of silence among UN personnel today to mourn and honour the 101 brave colleagues from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) who have lost their lives in Gaza in service of others.

During her address to the Conference last year, she spoke of the increasing geopolitical tensions and conflicts in the world and the strain on multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, she said.  “A year on, we are witnessing a crisis of humanity unfolding in front of our eyes in Gaza,” she said.  The geopolitical and security situation has worsened and relations among major powers have further strained. 

She expressed deep concern about clear violations of international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict.  “Let me repeat the clear, unequivocal position of the United Nations that no party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law.  Even wars have rules,” she said, calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow for life-saving aid to reach those in urgent and desperate need.  “Cool heads and diplomatic efforts must prevail,” she said, emphasizing that no effort should be spared to help pave the way to peace, to a two-State solution with Israelis and Palestinians living in peace and security.  Addressing the root causes of the conflict, including through a broader peace and security architecture in the region, is urgent, she said. 

Given the current crisis in the Middle East, the decision to continue the important work of the Conference demonstrates a collective will to use dialogue and diplomacy in seeking common security and regional peace.  “Any threat to use nuclear weapons is inadmissible [and] further illustrates the urgency and imperative to achieve the objective of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction,” she said.

The fourth session will continue to address key issues for a future Middle East zone treaty.  The importance of effective verification cannot be understated, as it ensures compliance and fosters trust among the parties to a future zone, she said.  Promoting peaceful uses is another key pillar, as it allows parties to the zone to benefit from peaceful uses and technical cooperation for social and economic development and serves as a key incentive for States to join the future zone. 

“The path towards the establishment of a Middle East zone through the elaboration of a legally binding treaty will not be smooth sailing,” she said.  But the incremental approach of the Conference is working well in preparing States for future negotiation of a treaty, she added, reiterating a call for the full participation of all States in the region. “A Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction will significantly contribute […] to peace and security of the Middle East and beyond,” she said.

Taher El-Sonni (Libya), President of the fourth session of the Conference, opened the meeting by saying the crisis in Gaza and its unpredictable backlash for peace and security in the Middle East and beyond underscores the urgency of the work of the Conference.  “The grave violations by the Israeli occupation forces must come to an end immediately,” he said.  “As long as there are nuclear weapons and other WMDs in our region, there will be no hope for sustainable peace in our region,” he said, adding that the provocative statement by a representative of the Israeli Government a few days ago, threatening the use of nuclear weapons against Gaza, is unacceptable.  The Conference and all parts of the United Nations must condemn that threat, which proves the gravity of the situation, he said.

Dennis Francis (Trinidad and Tobago), President of the General Assembly, noted that over four decades ago, the Assembly recommended the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.  “The ardent hope for a safer future has not been lost on the sands of time,” he said, highlighting that only two weeks ago, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) reaffirmed its unflinching support for the establishment of this zone, calling for urgent and practical steps for implementation.  “The overwhelming majority of Member States agree that keeping the region free of the most destructive weapons ever created by humanity is an important precursor to peace and stability in the Middle East,” he said. 

Concern about the ongoing hostilities is amplified by worries about escalation of nuclear programmes, he said, calling on all actors to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure transparency measures are in place for any nuclear programmes and to adhere to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  “Our footsteps will one day fade from this planet,” he said.  “We owe it to the generations who will follow to embark today on a path of sustainable peace in the Middle East.”

At the beginning of the meeting, the Conference adopted its provisional agenda (document A/CONF.236/2023/L.1/Rev.1) and the programme of work (document A/CONF.236/2023/L.2).

Xiaoyu Wang, Office for Disarmament Affairs and Secretary-General of the Conference, presented the Credentials Report, noting that, as of 13 November, 10 States — Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, State of Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — have submitted formal credentials.  He reminded the 14 States which have not submitted credentials — Morocco, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Comoros, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya — to do so.


For information media. Not an official record.