Finland to host 2012 conference on WMD free zone in Middle East

Finnish Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava

Finnish Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava

Finland has been designated as the host country for the planned conference in 2012 on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Jaakko Laajava, Under-Secretary of State in the Finnish Foreign Ministry, has been announced as the facilitator for the conference. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives from the United States, Russia, and Britain announced the decision on October 14th in New York.

Finland was also the host country for the first Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which led to a major de-escalation of tension in Europe during the Cold War and was the predecessor to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It is a neutral country and has a long history of involvement in conflict resolution, including the efforts of its former President Ahtisaari, who is now Special Envoy for the UN to Kosovo.

The conference emerged as the one condition that would allow consensus on a final document at the NPT Review Conference in May 2010, but is judged by many experts to be extremely difficult to realise, especially given the present political situation in the Middle East. The intention is that the conference will be attended by all the Arab states, and by the regional arch-enemies Iran and Israel, although neither country made any immediate comment on their attendance. It is also expected that the officially recognised nuclear weapon states will also be represented. Laajava said that the list of participants will firm up as a result of discussions he will have with the countries concerned, in his role as facilitator. The exact date for the conference has not been set, but it is planned to take place in 2012.

Anne Penketh, program director for the British American Security Information Council (BASIC),  said the low-key announcement on a Friday which is not a working day in the Middle East, is “a case of burying good news.”

Patricia Lewis, deputy director of the nonproliferation center at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, said the fact that all the Arab states, Israel and Iran, Russia, Britain and the United States agreed on the facilitator and the host “shows a strong commitment to moving forward with efforts to promote peace and disarmament in the Middle East.”

More news on announcement here: UN News Centre; Helsingin Sanomat; San Francisco Chronicle