U.S. Envoy Questions Middle East Verve for WMD-Free Zone

Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman speaking to reporters in Geneva

State Department

AA Font size + Print

Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman speaking to reporters in Geneva

In interview, State Department's Thomas Countryman says that Egypt's work on the issue is "theatrics." By Elaine Grossman

A senior U.S. State Department official in an exclusive interview called Egypt’s walkout from a recent U.N.-sponsored conference “theatrics” that do not help the Arab state’s bid to create a special Middle East zone free of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Cairo made news in April when its delegate left the Swiss-hosted conference to protest a lack of progress on the proposed regional ban on weapons of mass destruction, after a 2012 deadline for convening a formal gathering to discuss the topic was missed.

“To attain the participation of all regional states … is a task not only for the conveners and the facilitators,” said Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary of State for international security and nonproliferation. “The states of the region who want this to happen must also engage with each other, in order to set the agenda and the conditions for the conference.

“I think that’s possible to do,” he said in a late-June dialogue at his Foggy Bottom office, “but it requires not theatrics but engagement. And that’s what we haven’t seen.”

The idea for the conference stemmed from a resolution drafted by Egypt nearly two decades ago and embraced in 1995 by member nations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

A subsequent NPT Review Conference in 2010 agreed to hold the special gathering by 2012. However, U.N.-appointed facilitator Jaakko Laajava, a Finnish diplomat, was unable by the end of last year to get all Mideast nations to agree to participate.

Speaking at an April Preparatory Committee meeting aimed at planning the 2015 NPT Review Conference, Egyptian Ambassador Hisham Badr condemned what he termed “unilateral postponement” of the WMD-free zone confab, which is to be held in Helsinki.

He said that Laajava and the states tasked with helping support the conference — Russia, the United States and United Kingdom — should not have delayed setting a date for the formal WMD discussions, even though Israel had not yet agreed to attend.

“This followed the expressed commitment of all but one country in the Middle East to attend such a conference,” said Badr. “We reject the excuses that were given.”

Countryman, in the interview, suggested that domestic considerations last spring by Cairo’s since-ejected government, led at that time by Mohamed Morsi, were the primary motivation fueling Badr’s protest. In particular, the U.S. diplomat hinted that Egypt and its Arab League partners were blaming the stalled conference plans on Israel rather than agreeing to meet with all parties in a multilateral preliminary consultation, as Laajava has proposed and to which Israel has agreed.

The Finnish facilitator “is employing normal tools of diplomacy to solve an issue and to take a step forward,” Countryman told Global Security Newswire. “I would hope that all parties in the region would give him their full cooperation.”

A 31-year veteran diplomat whose multiple foreign assignments have included more than four years working on political and security issues in Egypt, Countryman also addressed a wide range of other topics in the June 26 interview. Those will be the focus of two forthcoming installments in this three-part interview series.

Read more at Global Security Newswire.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.