While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his whinging campaign that the West capitulated on a non-existent earlier demand for “any time, anywhere” snap inspections in Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by the P5+1 group of nations with Iran on its nuclear activities, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has come forward with a proposal that brilliantly turns the tables on Israel. Writing in the Guardian, Zarif calls on Israel to join in a plan to remove all weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East. Such a plan, of course, would require Israel to give up its poorly-held secret of an arsenal of their own nuclear weapons:
We – Iran and its interlocutors in the group of nations known as the P5+1 – have finally achieved the shared objective of turning the Iranian nuclear programme from an unnecessary crisis into a platform for cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and beyond. The nuclear deal reached in Vienna this month is not a ceiling but a solid foundation on which we must build. The joint comprehensive plan of action, as the accord is officially known, cements Iran’s status as a zone free of nuclear weapons. Now it is high time that we expand that zone to encompass the entire Middle East.
Also in the Guardian, Julian Borger provides some perspective on Zarif’s proposal:
Israel does not officially confirm its nuclear arsenal, but it is believed to have about 80 warheads. Zarif’s remarks also represent a rebuke to the five permanent members of the UN security council, all armed with nuclear weapons – the US, Russia, France, the UK and China – as well as the three other nuclear-armed states which, like Israel, are not NPT signatories: India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
Since a cold war high in 1986, when global stockpiles of nuclear warheads topped 65,000, the main weapons states have reduced their arsenals considerably. There are now thought to be fewer than 16,000 warheads worldwide, of which 14,700 are held – roughly equally – by the US and Russia. But the disarmament is now approaching a standstill. The Obama administration wanted to follow the 2010 New Start agreement with another, more ambitious, arms control treaty, but the dramatic worsening in relations halted progress. Russia and the US are modernising their nuclear arsenals.
That last bit about the US and Russia modernizing weapons rather than removing them is especially upsetting, but for now I’d like to concentrate on Zarif’s Middle East proposal. Insterestingly, Zarif points to Iran’s history of restraint on weapons of mass destruction when it came to the Iran-Iraq war. While widespread use of chemical weapons by Iraq in that war is indisputable, Zarif claims that Iran “never reciprocated in kind”. The record seems to bear that out. While Iran did develop their own chemical weapons program late in the war, the evidence that they ever used it is murky at best.
Zarif correctly depicts Israel as openly flaunting the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while at the same time noting how ironic that position is considering Israel’s rabid attitude towards Iran’s nuclear program:
One of the many ironies of history is that non-nuclear-weapon states, like Iran, have actually done far more for the cause of non-proliferation in practice than nuclear-weapon states have done on paper. Iran and other nuclear have-nots have genuinely “walked the walk” in seeking to consolidate the non-proliferation regime. Meanwhile, states actually possessing these destructive weapons have hardly even “talked the talk”, while completely brushing off their disarmament obligations under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and customary international law.
That is to say nothing of countries outside the NPT, or Israel, with an undeclared nuclear arsenal and a declared disdain towards non-proliferation, notwithstanding its absurd and alarmist campaign against the Iranian nuclear deal.
Borger gives us a concise summary of Zarif’s proposal:
Zarif makes three proposals: for negotiations to begin on a nuclear weapons elimination treaty; that this should lead initially to nuclear arsenals being taken off high alert readiness (for example, by removing warheads from missiles); and for the creation of a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
Again, the irony of Israel’s actions are brought into full light here. Another front on which Israel has been vocal regarding the JCPOA relates to restrictions on Iran’s missile program. At the same time Israel wants to severely restrict any further development of missiles in Iran, Israel has an arsenal of missiles already fitted with nuclear warheads and ready for launch.
But there is one more point that Zarif puts into his piece that I can’t stop marveling at. In his description of how negotiations on his plan could start, we have this:
One step in the right direction would be to start negotiations for a weapons elimination treaty, backed by a robust monitoring and compliance-verification mechanism.
What better spokesman could the world have for a “robust monitoring and compliance-verification mechanism” than the man who just agreed to submit his own country to history’s most intrusive inspections program for a country that hasn’t just been defeated in a war. He is definitely “walking the walk” when it comes to inspections and compliance. But I can’t help wondering if, should such negotiations actually get underway (note: yes, I realize that the chances are much less than zero), Zarif would allow himself, at least once, to call for Israel to submit to “any time, anywhere” inspections of its nuclear program.
In a blockbuster story published last night by the New York Times, C.J. Shivers lays out chapter and verse on the despicable way the US military covered up the discovery of chemical weapons in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Even worse is the cover-up of injuries sustained by US troops from those weapons, their denial of treatment and denial of recognition or their injuries sustained on the battlefront.
Why was this covered up, you might ask? After all, if George W. Bush would joke at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner about looking under White House furniture for Saddam’s WMD’s, why didn’t the US blast out the news of the WMD’s that had supposedly prompted the US invasion?
The answer is simple. The chemical weapons that were found did not date to the time frame when the US was accusing Saddam of “illegally” producing them. Instead, they were old chemical weapons that dated from the time Saddam was our friend. They come from the time when the US sent Donald Rumsfeld to shake Saddam’s hand and to grease the skids for Iraq to get chemical weapons to use in their war against Iran.
Chivers give us the details:
From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.
In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.
Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.
All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.
But here is the real kicker:
Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. “They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds,” Mr. Lampier said. “And all of this was from the pre-1991 era.”
Others pointed to another embarrassment. In five of six incidents in which troops were wounded by chemical agents, the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.
Good old USA technology, conveniently exported to European firms that we helped to build factories in Iraq to produce chemical weapons to be used against Iran. That is what caused injury to US servicemen who were routinely denied care and quickly sent back into battle because they weren’t missing limbs. Chivers talked to a number of those soldiers and their stories are so consistent they nearly blend together. Also consistent was the instant classification of the injuries, presumably because of the embarrassment to the Bush Administration they would cause should the press look into them too rigorously.
Sadly, though, the story is not yet over. The US left Iraq in 2011, knowing that chemical weapons were still stored in bunkers at Al Muthanna. At the end of Chivers’ report: Continue reading
As militarized local police riot in Ferguson, Missouri, Iraq continues its meltdown and Afghanistan can’t even agree on how to recount votes, the world has been overdue for the tiniest morsel of good news. Good news is what we got yesterday out of the situation regarding the destruction of chemical weapons-related materials from Syria:
The United States said Monday that it had completed the destruction of the deadliest chemical weapons in Syria’s arsenal, a rare foreign policy achievement for President Obama at a time when the Middle East is embroiled in violence and political turmoil.
On Monday, Mr. Obama said that the destruction of the weapons, several weeks ahead of schedule, “advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.”
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons provided more details in a press release from their Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü:
The Cape Ray’s consignment included the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal: 581 metric tonnes of DF [methylphosphonyl difluoride], a binary precursor for sarin gas, and 19.8 metric tonnes of ready-to-use sulfur mustard (HD). They were neutralised with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems (FDHS) on the Cape Ray, which reduced their toxicity by 99.9 percent in line with the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Furthermore, the operation was successfully completed weeks ahead of the 60-day schedule the U.S. had estimated would be needed, and OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment. The Cape Ray will now transport the effluent from the hydrolysis operations to Finland and Germany, where it will be offloaded for disposal at land-based facilities.
Recall that the initial US response to the chemical weapons attacks of August, 2013 in Syria was supposed to be missile strikes and a ramping up of support for “moderate” rebels fighting Assad. But John Kerry achieved some accidental diplomacy and Assad agreed to hand over his chemical arsenal for destruction. Since then, war hawks have been castigating Obama for the very low level of support for Syrian rebels despite the fact that US air strikes in Iraq are now aimed at destroying major weaponry that the US provided to Iraq’s army before it melted away in the face of opposition.
There now is substantial evidence to support the decision not to provide increased support for the moderates, as many of these moderate groups have now shifted their alliance directly into IS support. This terrific Monkey Cage blog post written by Marc Lynch and hosted at the Washington Post, provides very good background on the shifting alliances among the rebel groups: Continue reading
Yesterday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons noted another delivery of materials by Syria under the agreement calling for Syrian chemical weapons-related materials to be destroyed. Tuesday’s delivery took the current totals to 86.5% of all materials to be removed and 88.7% of the Priority 1, or most dangerous, chemicals. That leaves only “two or three” more deliveries to complete removal of all of the materials that Syria declared under the agreement and appears to have Syria on track to meet the current goal of all materials being removed later this month and destroyed by the end of June.
But, because this is Syria, significant controversy continues to swirl. The latest issue centers on the likely use of chlorine gas. That chlorine has been used seems fairly certain, but each side in the conflict accuses the other of being the perpetrator. It should be noted from the outset that chlorine is a widely used material with many peaceful uses and is not covered by the agreement under which Syria gave up its chemical weapons. It was used by Germany in WWI, but more effective chemical agents have since taken its place.
One central question on whether it is Assad’s forces who used the chlorine hinges on whether it can be shown that the gas was released from helicopters or airplanes, since the rebel forces have no air capabilities. Numerous news outlets quote anonymous US officials suggesting that chlorine has been delivered by aircraft, but no proof has been offered (nor has Syria provided proof that the rebels are responsible for the chlorine).
Today’s New York Times article is typical of the anonymous accusations against Syria:
Nearly 90 percent of the chemicals in Syria’s arsenal have now been exported and only a few shipments remain, international monitors reported Tuesday, but the progress was overshadowed by growing concerns that the Syrian military may be dropping bombs filled with chlorine, a common industrial compound not on the list of prohibited poisons.
Disarmament experts said that if the unconfirmed reports that Syrian warplanes and helicopters have been using chlorine-filled bombs in the civil war were true, that would be a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty signed by Syria last year and could constitute a war crime.
But CNN went much further in the accusations against Syria on Monday:
The Obama administration and its allies believe the Syrian government may have used chlorine gas in a deadly attack this month on its own people, several U.S. officials and other diplomats told CNN.
The alleged assault that killed at least two and affected dozens of others occurred in the village of Kafr Zeita, a rebel-held area.
While there is no firm proof as the matter is being looked into, several U.S. officials and Western diplomats say the United States believes the regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible because it has such chemicals and the means to deliver them.
“Our assessment is it is, at a minimum, concentrated chlorine dropped from helicopters,” a U.S. official said. “That could only be the regime.”
The official did not speak for full attribution.
As usual for accusations in Syria, attention is turning to video posted to YouTube. Today, one focus is on a chlorine canister attached to a detonator. The chlorine canister appears to have come from China: Continue reading
Yesterday, in describing how Russia has played the US media regarding “threats” to the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear technology, I mentioned that continued progress on Syria’s removal of its chemical weapons-related materials was further evidence that Russia intends to cooperate on the Iranian and Syrian nonproliferation issues separately from disputes over the Crimea annexation. Today, with news out that removal of the CW-related materials from Syria has crossed the 50% level, Russia has praised that accomplishment while pointing out that Syria now has virtually no capability of using chemical arms. Oh, and if we need any further confirmation that Russia is ready for the recriminations over Crimea to end, Putin himself has now said that there is no further need for retaliation against US sanctions (although I’m guessing that Dana Rohrabacher is in mourning that he wasn’t included in the list of ten US figures sanctioned by Russia since he even played dress-up and “fought” against the Soviets in Afghanistan).
A press release put out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons yesterday put the removal of materials from Syria at just under 50%:
The OPCW-UN Joint Mission has verified the delivery of another consignment of Priority 1 chemicals today to Latakia and their removal from the port on a cargo ship, raising the amount of Syrian chemicals that are now out of the country to nearly half of the total stockpile.
The confirmation came on the heels of an announcement late yesterday by the Joint Mission of two other consignments of chemicals that were delivered to Latakia and removed during the past week. A total of 11 consignments of chemicals have now been transported out of Syria for destruction outside the country. The updated cumulative figures are as follow:
Priority 1 chemicals removed: 34.8 %*
Priority 2 chemicals removed: 82.6 %
Total chemicals removed: 49.3 %
* Includes all sulfur mustard, the only unitary chemical warfare agent in Syria’s arsenal
More than half of Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal has been shipped out or destroyed within the country, the head of the international team overseeing the disarmament process said on Thursday.
Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the United Nations and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said 54 percent of the toxins had been removed or eliminated.
The process, which President Bashar al-Assad’s government agreed to after a chemical attack killed hundreds of people around Damascus last year, is months behind schedule but Kaag said the new momentum “would allow for timely completion”.
“The joint mission welcomes the momentum attained and encourages the Syrian Arab Republic to sustain the current pace,” Kaag said in a statement.
Russia welcomed this news and added that Syria now has almost no capability of carrying out an attack with chemical weapons:
The Syrian government has reduced its chemical weapons potential close to zero, state-run RIA news agency quoted an unnamed official at the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Friday.
“Chemical weapons production facilities, equipment for mixing (chemicals) and operating (the weapons), as well as the means of their delivery have been destroyed,” the official said, adding that the only gas that had been ready for use in weaponry had been completely removed from the country.
“At the moment, Damascus has de facto reduced its military chemical weapons potential to almost zero.”
Sadly, those who relish a restart of the Cold War are unlikely to stop now, so we are left to wonder what Putin will do in response if the US (especially Congressional meddlers) takes further steps claimed to be in response to the annexation of Crimea. Putin’s statement today that he sees no need for further retaliation can be viewed as reining back in the “threat” delivered by Ryobkov after the P5+1 negotiations ended Wednesday. Further action by the US, though, could end Russian cooperation in both the P5+1 process and the Syrian CW situation, seriously hurting current nonproliferation efforts.
It is my hope that Cold War fans will restrict their threats against Russia to the realm of what would happen should Putin try to grab more territory beyond Crimea.
Back at the end of January, I noted that Syria was being castigated for delays in removing its chemical weapon precursors when the US had not been blamed for delays in making the Cape Ray available for destruction of the chemicals to proceed. Although there were still slight delays after the Cape Ray appeared in the region, we are now seeing from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that the original deadline of all the chemicals being destroyed by the end of June can still be met. Even more encouraging, the pace of removal of chemicals from Syria has picked up significantly and now more than a third of the material will have been removed by the end of this week.
From a press release today by OPCW:
The Syrian Arab Republic has submitted to the OPCW a revised proposal that aims to complete the removal of all chemicals from Syria before the end of April 2014.
The OPCW-UN Joint Mission also verified that two more consignments of chemicals have left the port of Latakia, including a quantity of mustard gas – a Priority 1 chemical – which was previously reported last Wednesday. Another movement, a significant consignment of other Priority 1 chemicals, is scheduled to arrive in Latakia during this week, which will bring the total number of movements thus far to six.
The six movements represent more than 35% of all chemicals that must be removed from Syria for destruction, including 23% of Priority 1 chemicals and 63% of Priority 2 chemicals. In addition, the OPCW has verified that Syria has destroyed in situ more than 93% of its stock of isopropanol.
It would have been a bit more encouraging if all of the Priority 1 materials were removed first, since they present the biggest risk. It is not clear whether the shipment of a higher percentage of the Priority 2 material than Priority 1 was due to Syria withholding more dangerous material intentionally or if it was a result of logistics being dictated by where the materials were stored relative to where fighting in the ongoing civil war was taking place. In that regard, it is worth noting that Syria reported last week that there were two attempted attacks on convoys transporting the materials in late January. Although the Reuters report does not expressly state as much, we are left to assume that the attacks were unsuccessful since they were reported as merely being attempted. This same report also noted that two staging sites for the chemicals could not be accessed during the reporting period due to fighting in the area.
Returning to the OPCW press release from today, this bit at the end cannot be emphasized enough: Continue reading
The last time I checked in on Syria, there was much consternation over the delays in getting Syria’s chemical weapons precursors sent to the staging area in Latakia so that they can be moved on to the next steps in the process that will eventually result in destruction of the chemicals at sea aboard the Cape Ray. I had noted that stories covering the delay had put all of the blame on Syria for not moving the chemicals (even though they were said already to be at “marshaling” spots) while ignoring that the US was over a month late in making the Cape Ray ready. There has now been a third batch of chemicals sent to Latakia by Syria, but the amount shipped represents a small fraction of the materials to be removed. Despite this, Syria still maintains that the the June deadline for full destruction of the materials will be met.
Going further back, recall that back in September, we were hearing about how wonderful General Salim Idriss is. We were told that he was a moderate (well, that is if we ignore the fellow from his forces who eat hearts of dead foes) and that he had a foolproof plan for maintaining control of arms we shipped to him. It turns out that Idriss wasn’t much of a leader after all. Idriss now has been removed:
The sudden replacement of the Free Syrian Army commander is the strongest sign yet that the rebel group is restructuring to address concerns of its Western backers that it fight both the regime and extremist opposition factions.
Gen. Salim Idriss, the public face of the FSA for the past 14 months, leaves ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states to rebels aligned with his group.
Complaints against Gen. Idriss have been mounting for some time. His critics said his forces were ineffective and he was too slow to deliver weapons to fighters.
It’s all about the weapons when it comes to “aid” for the Syrian rebels. And Idriss’ control of those weapons? How about this in The Guardian’s coverage of Idriss’ sacking:
The Islamic Front recently seized weapons warehouses from the FSA.
Gosh, I sure hope Idriss got the Islmaic Front to give him a handwritten receipt for those weapons.
But did you notice that bit in the quote above from the Wall Street Journal article, where we learn that Idriss’ removal comes “ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states”? Iran explains to us in a Fars News article that this really means the weapons will come from Saudi Arabia: Continue reading
Yesterday, Reuters granted anonymity to “sources”, including two who are each identified as “a senior Western diplomat”, to blame Syria for delays in shipping its chemical weapons-related materials out of the country. Only when we get to the very last paragraph of the article, though, do we get to the fact that these chemicals are to be destroyed aboard the Cape Ray, a ship which the US has outfitted with equipment for destroying the chemicals at sea. The article does note that the Cape Ray is now in transit to the region, but it fails to note that even though the original plan was for the Cape Ray to begin its work by the end of December, the ship did not leave the US until January 27. Allowing for transit time to get to the region, it would appear that the US delay in supplying the Cape Ray can account for the bulk of the 6-8 weeks by which Syria is reported to be behind schedule.
The anonymous smears hit paydirt, prompting Laura Rozen to wonder whether the delay would force the US into taking “kinetic action”. Fortunately, Cheryl Rofer saw through the ruse immediately, calling out the reliance on anonymous diplomats and cautioning that the situation falls far short of anything requiring such a response.
Before getting to the accusations transcribed by Reuters, it is important to go back to what we knew in early December when the plan for destroying the chemicals at sea was first announced. In my post about that development, I had this quote from a BBC article:
It is believed that the chemicals, all but 30 tonnes of which take the form of precursors – two or more of which have to be mixed to create the lethal agents – have been gathered in several marshalling areas by the Syrian army and amount to more than 600 tonnes. The other 30 tonnes consist of mustard gas.
This is very important context that is entirely lacking in the Reuters article: by early December, we knew that Syria had already gathered the key materials into “marshalling areas” where they were being held prior to destruction. Also missing from the Reuters report is that back in early November, Syria completed destroying all of the equipment that can be used for mixing binary chemical weapon agents and loading them into shells for firing. Note, too, that only about 30 tons of the material is intact active chemical agent rather than materials that have to be mixed to produce the agents.
Reuters opens: Continue reading
After the debacle of floating prisons used for interrogation that included torture, the US now is set to embark on a more noble mission at sea. Hundreds of tons of precursors to chemical weapons being surrendered by Syria will now be destroyed at sea, in part because no nation would agree to being the site for destruction of the chemicals.
Sadly, part of the reasoning behind the refusal to house the destruction can be seen in today’s press coverage of the announcement of destruction at sea. Headlines at the Washington Post, BBC, Los Angeles Times and ABC (this is just a quick representative sample, there are many others) all contain some variation on “US to Destroy Syrian Chemical Weapons at Sea”. However, if we read further, we find this tidbit buried in the BBC story:
It is believed that the chemicals, all but 30 tonnes of which take the form of precursors – two or more of which have to be mixed to create the lethal agents – have been gathered in several marshalling areas by the Syrian army and amount to more than 600 tonnes. The other 30 tonnes consist of mustard gas.
The headlines would have us believe that it is intact nerve agents such as sarin that are being destroyed in this process. The reality is that by the numbers cited here by BBC, more than 95% of the material is precursor material where at least two different components must first be mixed together to produce the active nerve agent. Only the 30 tons of mustard gas included in the overall collection of over 600 tons of material requires no processing to be a recognized chemical weapon. It would seem likely that nations have bowed out of serving as sites for destruction of the material because their citizens believe, based on sloppy reporting in the press, that the material to be destroyed is 100% active nerve agent.
The original announcement that the US would destroy the precursors was made by OPCW on November 30:
In a statement to the OPCW Executive Council on Friday 29 November 2013, Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü announced that the United States has offered to contribute a destruction technology, full operational support and financing to neutralise Syria’s priority chemicals, which are to be removed from the country by 31 December.
The Director-General stated that the neutralisation operations will be conducted on a U.S. vessel at sea using hydrolysis. Currently a suitable naval vessel is undergoing modifications to support the operations and to accommodate verification activities by the OPCW.
Joby Warrick reports in his article in the Post that an unidentified country has stepped up to gather the materials from a Syrian port and hand them off to the US ship when it is ready: Continue reading
Just a few short months ago, speculation regarding a US attack on Syria centered only around when the attack would take place, how large it would be and how long bombardment would continue. But then accidental diplomacy broke out and it appears to be moving along remarkably well. Last week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons certified that Syria has complied with the first stage of its giving up chemical weapons:
The Joint Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – United Nations Mission confirmed today that the government of the Syrian Arab Republic has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.
By doing so, Syria has met the deadline set by the OPCW Executive Council* to “complete as soon as possible and in any case not later than 1 November 2013, the destruction of chemical weapons production and mixing/filling equipment.”
On a separate front, Iran’s Foreign Minister announced yesterday that he feels an agreement on Iran’s nuclear technology could be reached as early as this week:
Two days before negotiations resume in Geneva between Iran and the United States and other Western powers aimed at ending a fight over the disputed Iranian nuclear program, the country’s foreign minister sounded an optimistic note on Tuesday, saying a deal was possible as soon as this week.
“I believe it is even possible to reach that agreement this week,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with France 24, a major television network here, before meeting with the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.
It is possible that these two diplomatic breakthroughs have provided cover for an even bigger diplomatic effort. An initiative had grown out of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference to work toward an agreement banning all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. A conference based on the initiative had been planned for last year, but the United States announced it had been delayed just before it was scheduled to begin.
A planning meeting for the formal conference was held October 21-22 in Switzerland. The Nuclear Threat Initiative outlined a number of issues that were to be addressed a few weeks before that meeting:
A United Nations-appointed diplomat on Tuesday said he will convene multinational consultations in Switzerland later this month as a potentially key step toward discussing an eventual ban on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
If nations in the region can agree on the terms and objectives of regional discussions, a formal conference on creating a Mideast WMD-free zone could occur in Helsinki, Finland, as early as mid-December, according to international diplomats and expert observers.
Jaakko Laajava, a Finnish envoy who serves as facilitator for the prospective talks, played down continued differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors over the necessity of this month’s multilateral planning session, which is to take place in Glion, a lakeside retreat roughly 60 miles northeast of Geneva.
Yes, you read that correctly. Even though Israel was not a participant in the 2010 conference that created this initiative, Israel now is suddenly a party to the discussions. Of course, the region faces a multitude of WMD issues and especially non-compliance issues for agreements already reached: Continue reading