Jordanian Ambassador addresses Canberra Jewish Group

January 22, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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Jordanian Ambassador Rajab Sukayri spoke to the Capital Jewish Forum on “The Current Nuclear Dilemma in the Middle East – a Jordanian and Arab Perspective.”

Manny Waks, Ambassador Sukayri, Anita Shroot

More than 30 members of the CJF, a non-partisan group, were joined by guests from across the country to hear the Ambassador speak at the Australian National University.

J-Wire publishes the ambassador’s speech in full:

“At the outset I wish to extend my sincere thanks to the organizers of this event, in particular Mr. Manny Waks, for giving me the opportunity to address such a distinguished group of professionals in a friendly gathering.

My presentation tonight tackles a highly sensitive, but most significant and indispensable, topic in the complex Middle East situation.

Before I address the major questions of this presentation, I wish to explain what this presentation is not. This presentation is not a discussion of the current stand off on the nuclear question between Iran and the Western countries. Nor is this presentation an account of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israel’s nuclear capability or its ambiguous nuclear policy. Although the presentation refers to these issues, it is not exclusively devoted to any of them.

In this presentation, I tackle the following questions:

  1. 1. Why is the nuclear issue in the Middle East problematic and what makes the Middle East susceptible, from time to time, to such confrontations related to the question of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction?
  2. 2. What is the relationship between the nuclear issue and the Peace Process in the region?
  3. 3. What can be done to deal with, and try to settle, this problematic situation emanating from the nuclear dilemma in the region?
  4. 4. What is the Jordanian, and Arab, perspective on the current nuclear dilemma in the Middle East, and what discrepancies are there between the positions of the major regional actors on this issue?

I certainly realize that it takes a doctoral thesis to fully answer each one of these questions. However, given the limited time available, I tried my best to be as brief as possible in touching upon these issues in the presentation so that we can allow some more time for the question and answer period.

1. Why is the nuclear issue in the Middle East a dilemma?

The current nuclear situation in the Middle East may be described in terms of the following: First, the region has so far failed to achieve universality on the NPT, despite the fact that, with the exception of very few countries, one of them is a major power in the Middle East, all countries of the world have now signed and ratified the treaty; Second, a major state actor in the region is accused by Western states of pursuing a nuclear-weapon program. This has resulted in several UN Security Council resolutions imposing economic and other sanctions on that country in addition to threats of military action against it; Third, although all countries, except for one, in the region are NPT members, recent history of the Middle East has witnessed attempts by several countries to go nuclear, and if the current dangerous situation in the region continues, more countries may consider such an option; Fourth, after 35 UN General Assembly resolutions, over the last three and a half decades, on the necessity of establishing a Nuclear Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, the region has so far failed to achieve that objective; Fifth, this perilous situation, if continued, may result in the following dangers: (1) a nuclear show down between the United States or Israel and Iran, a situation that will highly destabilize the region; (2) a potential nuclear-arms race that would usher in new regional states to the nuclear club; (3) more states in the region will be reluctant to join treaties prohibiting other weapons of mass destruction including the chemical and biological weapons conventions (CWC&BWC), as well as international treaties limiting missile acquisition; (4) with more countries in the region pursuing nuclear weapons programs, the danger of these weapons falling in the hands of terrorists will definitely be much higher; (5) more military imbalances (both conventional and nuclear) may emerge and continue between the states of the region, a situation that would aggravate much further the current security dilemma in the Middle East; (6) finally, the risk of nuclear accidents and miscalculation will certainly be higher if more states in the region acquired nuclear weapons.

I now turn to the second part of the first question, namely, what makes the Middle East susceptible to such a perilous situation? Simply put, the answer may revolve around deep political differences between regional states, particularly the Arab Israeli conflict with the Palestinian problem at its core.

This takes us to the second question on the relationship between the nuclear issue and peace in the region. Should reaching a settlement on the nuclear issue, as Israel argues, wait until comprehensive peace has prevailed in the region? Or, would a solution of the nuclear dilemma, as most Arab countries argue, enhance the potential for a comprehensive peace in the region? This matter is highly controversial. However, the best possible compromise would be to reach a formula by which the two processes could go simultaneously hand in hand. Achieving progress in the peace process would certainly boost efforts toward solving the nuclear security dilemma. And vice versa, any progress in the realm of security, which is a major concern, especially for Israel, would undoubtedly enhance the peace process. In accordance with this compromise, Israel may not be required to give up its nuclear option unless its security is guaranteed. Another significant outcome of this formula is the elimination of the “double-standard” accusation when dealing with the nuclear issue in the Middle East. In addition, any reasonable settlement of the security dilemma in the region must be based on renouncing nuclear weapons by all regional states which will also be required to place all their nuclear facilities under full-scope safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All states in the region would accordingly be entitled to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy without the risk of deviating highly enriched uranium (HEU) to military purposes. Elimination of nuclear proliferation in a highly volatile region such as the Middle East is the gateway to regional security and stability.


There are three possible solutions available for dealing with the Middle East nuclear dilemma and solving the problems stemming from it. The first one is economic and other sanctions to be imposed by the UN Security Council on countries indulging in producing, or acquiring through other means, nuclear devices or even developing the know-how for acquiring the capability to produce nuclear weapons. The important question is, however, to which extent could sanctions be effective? The answer may not be so encouraging, particularly with the recent examples of North Korea, Iraq and Iran in mind. In addition to their ineffectiveness, sanctions may have a negative impact on the poor, the weakest segment of the society on which sanctions are imposed.

The second option is diplomacy and negotiations. In some examples, such as Libya, negotiations have proved to be successful in reversing the quest for nuclear and other arms of mass destruction. It should be noted, however, that prolonged negotiations without a timeframe may have a negative effect by allowing proliferators to buy time. Therefore, what could be a little more effective is an amalgam, (a mixture) of sanctions and negotiations.

The third option is military action. Although this may be seen by some practitioners as most effective if sanctions and negotiations proved to be leading nowhere, military action could have detrimental effects on regional peace and stability. Moreover, military action could temporarily impede the drive towards producing nuclear arms but may not totally eliminate such programs especially if nuclear facilities are scattered and well protected. Military action may also have a negative societal effect. It would antagonize those segments in the society of targeted countries that are otherwise opposed to their nation’s nuclear arms option. Nevertheless, for enhancing the effectiveness of both sanctions and negotiations, it could be prudent to leave the military option open, provided that it is applied equally to all cases of nuclear proliferation in order to avert the ‘double standard’ accusation.

Now I turn to the final question in this presentation. What is the Jordanian and Arab perspective on the current Middle East nuclear dilemma?

Jordan, along with all Arab countries, is in favour of the establishment of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (NWFZ) in the region of the Middle East. His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan has repeatedly called for ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The late King Hussein, may his soul rest in peace, insisted during the negotiations that produced the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty, to incorporate a provision providing for freeing the region of nuclear and other arms of mass destruction. Since 1974, Jordan, Egypt and other Arab states have been sponsoring an annual resolution at the UN General Assembly calling, inter alia, for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East. Also the Board of Governors and the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have for many years been adopting resolutions to this effect.

A NWFZ, if established, would certainly rid the region of the threat of nuclear arms. It would allow all countries in the region to benefit from the peaceful uses of nuclear energy while placing all nuclear facilities under full-scope safeguards of the IAEA. Moreover, the creation of a NWFZ in the region of the Middle East would roll back nuclear proliferation where it has occurred. Most importantly, the protocols attached to such a NWFZ treaty and signed by all Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) would provide security assurances to all state parties to the treaty.

A NWFZ would not be an exclusive invention of the Middle East. Past experience tells us that the establishment of such zones in other regions of the world have been most successful and very effective in preventing nuclear weapons proliferation. There are currently five NWFZs in the world covering almost the whole Southern Hemisphere. As early as 1967, the NWFZ of Latin America and the Caribbean was established to prohibit production, development, stockpiling, deployment and use of nuclear weapons in the region. For four decades the Treaty of Tlatelolco has proved to be most effective in preventing nuclear proliferation in that region. The second NWFZ (the Treaty of Rarotonga) was concluded in1985 in the South Pacific. Australia played a leading role in the creation of that zone. Rarotonga was followed in 1995 by the Bangkok Treaty that established a NWFZ in Southeast Asia. In 1996 the African countries succeeded in creating a NWFZ in their continent. The Pelindaba Treaty which entered into force in July last year, has also proved to be most effective.  It attracted all NWS to sign protocols attached to the treaty providing security assurances to all states of the continent and undertaking to refrain from deploying or using nuclear devices in the region. The fifth NWFZ was established in 2006 in Central Asia. The Central Asian NWFZ Treaty which entered into force in March, 2009 was concluded by five regional states, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

This success record, however, does not incorporate such regions as South Asia, Northeast Asia and the Middle East.

It might be said that none of the regions that succeeded in establishing NWFZs were as volatile and conflict-ridden as the Middle East. While this is true, it could be argued that the diplomatic history of the processes of establishing NWFZs in those five regions may provide us with most valuable lessons. That rich diplomatic history should be most supportive to the case of the Middle East.

Over the last few decades, especially after convening the 1991 Madrid Conference, a plethora of seminars and informal conferences convened in and outside the region of the Middle East aiming at studying thoroughly the NWFZ option. All these meetings, without exception, have been most supportive to the establishment of a NWFZ or a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East. What is lacking, however, is the political will of the states of the region. The NWFZ option that proved to be most successful in the above-mentioned five regions should also be most effective in the Middle East.”

In the Q & A session which followed, AMbassador Sukayri spoke on nuclear, Israeli-Palestinian and other issues.

The context has been sent to J-wire by CJF founder Manny Waks.

On the nuclear issue:

•                     In response to the question of why he believed two out of the three approaches outlined in his presentation would be effective, namely economic sanctions and negotiations, when these have proved ineffective in relation to North Korea, the Ambassador responded that in all cases there needs to be a combination of negotiations and sanctions, while the use of military action will have detrimental effects and would destabilize the region, and  he emphasised that the use of military was implemented in the past under specific circumstances. Moreover, the potential consequences of military action must also be considered. While nuclear armament in the Middle East would lead to further destabilisation of the region, similarly there is the potential that a military strike would achieve the same consequence;

•                     The Ambassador pointed out that while he supports the option of nuclear programmes for peaceful purposes (i.e. energy use) there was always a risk of deviation from peaceful to military activities. To eliminate this risk he emphasised the need for “any such programme to be under the supervision and full scope safeguard of the International Atomic Energy Authority”;

•                     In response to a hypothetical situation, whereby Iran acquires nuclear weapons, the Ambassador warned there was always a risk of an arms race in the region. Though he did point out that Libya was persuaded to cease its military programme through negotiations, while the Iraqi nuclear programme was halted by a military strike. Such military measures are never guaranteed and as long as there is one country pursuing a nuclear program, an arms race in the region is always a dangerous possibility; and

•                     The Ambassador emphasised that the preferred situation is the establishment of a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East – permitting any country to possess nuclear weapons would always be considered a double standard. A regime’s characteristic – whether democratic or despotic – should make no difference whatsoever.

On the Israeli-Palestinian issue:

•                     Attaining comprehensive peace in the Middle East region is currently Jordan’s primary concern – especially getting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track;

•                    In response to a question regarding the movement of Palestinians living in countries outside Israel once a Palestinian State is established, the Ambassador emphasised that the issues of Palestinian refugees is one of the major final status issues that needs to be resolved by the Israelis, Palestinians and the parties involved. He also responded that there may be insufficient space in Gaza and the West Bank to resettle all the Palestinian refugees, much the same as there is insufficient space within Israel for all Jews living around the world; and•                     Responding to why peace between Israelis and the Palestinian has been so elusive – despite the fact that a majority of the people and both governments seemingly want this so desperately – the Ambassador noted the complexity of the situation. He specifically mentioned the security factor. Israel requires security and this is a legitimate need for all countries of the region but there is also a range of other final status issues which must be dealt with such as the status of Jerusalem, borders, refugees, water, etc.

On other issues:

•                     While until now only Jordan and Egypt have reached peace agreements with Israel, it was the Ambassador’s hope that a comprehensive peace settlement will be reached;

•                     The Ambassador emphasised the effectiveness of “middle powers” such as Australia in playing significant roles in peacemaking efforts in the Middle East. He noted several examples of Australia’s successful role in international peacemaking efforts;

•                     A recent poll in Jordan commissioned by The Israel Project and conducted by the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research group which found, among other findings, that only less than a quarter of Jordanians think Israel has the right to exist, was dismissed by the Ambassador as “just another poll among the many which are conducted by many different groups”, and “did not accurately reflect Jordanians’ views” on this issue;

•                     The Ambassador hoped for a swift resolution on the water dispute with Israel, though he emphasised that this is a vital issue and should be subject to negotiations; and

•                     The Ambassador briefly touched on the terrible tragedy in Haiti and noted that Jordan had lost three peacekeeping troops who were stationed in Haiti. As in most major international natural disasters, Jordan sent some relief supplies to the country.

Eli Yerushalmi who is an attache at the Israeli Embassy attended with his wife Shula

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