With Regret, State Dept. Calls Off Conference on Ridding Middle East of WMD

By Susan Jones | November 24, 2012 | 9:49 AM EST

President Obama delivers a speech embracing the goal of total nuclear disarmament in Prague, the Czech Republic, on April 5, 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. State Department "regrets to announce" that a proposed 2012 conference aimed at ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction cannot take place because the region is in turmoil and the nations to be included in the nuclear-free zone can't even agree on the conditions for such a conference.

On Friday, the State Department said there were too many obstacles standing in the way of convening a conference on security issues in a place where no security exists.

This is a setback for President Obama's call, early in his presidency, to move the world closer to total nuclear disarmament.

"The United States will continue to work seriously with our partners to create conditions for a meaningful conference," the State Department said in its announcement. "Outside states cannot impose a process on the region any more than they can dictate an outcome. The mandate for a MEWMDFZ (Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone) must come from the region itself. That principle must underlie any serious undertaking on this issue.”

The proposed 2012 meeting stems from a May 2010 conference at the United Nations, where the 189 nations that have signed onto the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty called for the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and "all other weapons of mass destruction."

The Arab proposal for a WMD-free zone in the Mideast was aimed at pressuring Israel to give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal, the Associated Press reported at the time.

Israel has long insisted that a full Arab-Israeli peace must precede any nuclear weapons bans, and it has not signed the nonproliferation treaty.

In its Friday announcement that there will be no 2012 WMD nonproliferation conference, the State Department nevertheless encouraged Middle Eastern nations to "take a fresh look at the obstacles standing in the way of convening a conference and to begin to explore terms for a successful meeting.”

It said the terms for a successful conference must include all parties agreeing on the “purpose and scope” of the conference – and taking into account “the legitimate security interests of all states in the region," including Israel.

In August 2009, President Obama gave a speech in Prague in which he announced "a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years." He also vowed to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as the basis for international cooperation.

“We must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon,” Obama said in Prague. “This is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. One terrorist with one nuclear weapon could unleash massive destruction. Al Qaeda has said it seeks a bomb and that it would have no problem with using it. And we know that there is unsecured nuclear material across the globe. To protect our people, we must act with a sense of purpose without delay."

Two months later, in October 2009, only nine months into his presidency, President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

The Nobel Committee specifically mentioned Obama’s efforts toward nuclear disarmament.

The State Department on Friday said U.S. "fully supports the goal of a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction," and it noted that "a comprehensive and durable peace in the region" is among the "essential precursor for the establishment of such a zone."