Russia to push for Middle East free of WMDs
Move comes as Russia has been pushing to extend its influence in the Middle East
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov speaks to the United Nations Security Council after it unanimously voted in favor of a resolution eradicating Syria’s chemical arsenal during a Security Council meeting at the 68th United Nations General Assembly in New York. Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters
Russia wants to revive plans for a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction now that Syria has pledged to abandon its chemical arms, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published today.
Such a move could put Moscow at odds with Washington which announced the conference would be delayed last year. Analysts said it feared the event would be used to criticise its ally Israel, believed to be the region’s only nuclear-armed state.
Russia has been pushing to extend its influence in the Middle East. It initiated a UN deal to get Syria to abandon its chemical arms after Washington threatened military strikes to punish Damascus for a sarin gas attack on rebel areas.
“We will seek to have this conference take place,” Mr Lavrov said in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant.
Mr Lavrov said Syria’s agreement to destroy its chemical weapons by next June should trigger a broader effort.
“In the current situation, it is particularly important to make the ... non-possession of weapons of mass destruction universal in this explosive region,” he said.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has said Syria’s government always viewed its long-undeclared chemical arsenal as a counterweight to the nuclear arms Israel is believed to possess. Israel has never acknowledged having atomic weapons.
A plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed in 2010, co-sponsored by Russia, the United States and Britain.
But Washington said the meeting would be delayed just before it was due to start at the end of last year. No new date has been announced.
The United States also rejected a Russian proposal to include a line in a UN Security Council resolution saying that Syria’s plan to scrap chemical weapons was an important step toward a WMD-free Middle East, Mr Lavrov told Kommersant.
Russia has been Syria’s biggest diplomatic ally during the uprising against president Bashar al-Assad that has killed more than 100,000 people.
Speaking to the UN General Assembly today, Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem called for the creation of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction but said it was “unachievable without the accession of Israel”.
But US and Israeli officials see Iran’s nuclear activity as the main proliferation threat in the Middle East.
They have said a nuclear-free zone could not be a reality until there was broad Arab-Israeli peace and Tehran curbed its nuclear programme, which they fear is aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability.
Washington remained committed to working toward a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems, the US envoy to the UN nuclear agency said earlier this month.