During their summit in Sirt, Libya, Arab leaders had to deal with a heavy agenda centered on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Tel Aviv’s ongoing challenges to the world community and its progressive violation of international law by further building colonies on occupied territories and East Jerusalem as well as the Darfur conflict, the threatening instability in Yemen, the Somali drama and, above all, the need for more coherent, collective Arab policies, among other key issues.
Nevertheless, they devoted an important chapter to nuclear concerns. In fact, the rulers of some 350 million people living in the oil wealthiest and most conflictive region on Earth have issued a clarion call at the end of their 22nd summit in Libya, for a nuclear free world.
**NUCLEAR FREE, NOW**
Specifically, in their final declaration following the two-day meeting, the Arab leaders *“reaffirmed that all Arab countries that are signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) demand the international community to undertake immediate actions to free the world from nuclear weapons.”*
The summit declaration stressed the need *“to translate international initiatives aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons from the world into concrete, binding and time-tabled programms”*.
**ATOMS FOR PEACE**
This position is in line with that of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which in a nutshell tantamounts to: *Nuclear Power ‘Yes’ – Nuclear Proliferation ‘No’*.
It also fits in the growing interest shown by several Arab countries, including the oil-rich ones, in developing nuclear power for peaceful use. The U.S., UK, France, and Russia, among other industrialized countries, have been encouraging this trend in Arab countries and some of them have already signed substantial commercial deals to install nuclear plants in a number of Arab states.
The oil-rich United Arab Emirates, for instance, announced in October 2009 its decision to build nuclear reactors on its soil. This unleashed a frenetic, politically backed competition between giant corporations from France, U.S., Japan and South Korea, to win the 40 billion dollar bid for this project
At the same time, the French government has reportedly promised assistance to Qatar and Morocco, to launch their own nuclear programms. Egypt and Jordan were reported to be heading for building nuclear plants. Also Saudi Arabia announced plans to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
The Arab leaders also underscored that progress towards achieving this goal *“requires, as a first step, the ‘universalization’ of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty”*.
This strong Arab stand was spell out some days after the announcement of U.S.-Russia agreement to reduce their nuclear arsenal by 30 percent, which was sealed on April 8 in Prague, and shortly ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, as well as the NPT review conference May 3-28 in New York.
With an eye on the later, the Arab declaration reaffirms *“the importance of respecting the rights of NPT member states to posses and develop nuclear technologies for peaceful use, rejecting any restrictions to these rights under any argument”*.
Back to the Arab declaration, the Arab leaders demanded that the NPT review conference *“adopt clear decisions and build up practical measures to make the Middle East a nuclear-free region”*.
Israel, the sole nuclear power in the Middle East with reported 200 nuclear weapons, has systematically refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
On this issue, the Arab leaders warned that *“Israel insistence on refusing to join non-proliferation treaty and submitting its nuclear facilities to the full guarantees system of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will lead the region to an arms race of dramatic consequences”*.
In this regard, and coinciding with the Arab declaration, the Jerusalem Post daily reported on the same day that the Israeli government will present *“no concessions”* at the nuclear security summit in Washington regarding its policy of maintaining *“ambiguity”* around its nuclear weapons, according to an Israel military official.
**ARAB AND WORLD CAMPAIGNING**
The issue of achieving a nuclear-free Middle East is not new. In fact, Egypt launched 36 years ago an active campaign aiming at the establishment of a *”nuclear free Middle East”*.
In 1990, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak revitalized the Egyptian initiative through a new, larger plan to declare the Middle East a *”weapons of mass destruction free region”*, including nuclear weapons.
The Egyptian initiative has drawn support from most Arab countries and has been reaffirmed by Amre Musa, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, representing all the 22 Arab countries, who continue to repeat: *”It is a must to free the Middle East of nuclear weapons.”*
The Arab support for the nuclear free Middle East initiative has gathered added strength particularly in the Gulf Arab countries in the wake of the U.S., Israel, and Europe alleging that Iran intends to build nuclear weapons.
Moreover, during a Washington summit between Mubarak and U.S. President Barack Obama in August 2009, Egypt categorically rejected a U.S. offer to guarantee defense of the region against atomic weapons through an extended *’nuclear umbrella’* and as part of a comprehensive Middle East peace plan.
The plan did not specify whether Israel would dismantle its nuclear arsenals.
On the other hand, 10 Arab countries situated in Africa, who are members of both the League of Arab States and The African Union, are parties to the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, which entered into force in July 2009.
These are: Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, and Tunisia.
In addition, some outstanding Arab personalities have joined the worldwide campaign launched by 100 international figures for the abolition of nuclear weapons, known as *’Global Zero, for a World Without Nuclear Weapons’*.
Queen Noor of Jordan, for instance, has been actively campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons, within the Global Zero initiative.
In this regard, the Jordanian queen affirmed: *”The sheer folly of trying to defend a nation by destroying all life on the planet must be apparent to anyone capable of rational thought. Nuclear capability must be reduced to zero, globally, permanently. There is no other option.”*
Meanwhile, the world has been witnessing a growing number of active international campaigning for the elimination of all nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.
The initiatives range from civil society and grassroots organizations to Nobel Laureates and city mayors – such as Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of the City of Hiroshima, which together with Nagasaki continues to suffer the atrocious consequences of U.S. nuclear bombs during World War II – as well as world religious leaders among so many others.
One of these is the Soka Gakkai International – a Japanese Buddhist organization with 12 million members around the world – that promotes peace and has launched an active international campaign aimed at abolishing nuclear weapons.
Among numerous international personalities campaigning for a nuclear-free world is Jayantha Dhanapala who presided over the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, and was UN under-secretary-general for Disarmament Affairs from 1998-2003.