ABU DHABI // The head of a European nuclear safety organisation is calling on the UAE to lead its neighbours into a treaty that prevents testing of nuclear weapons.
Dr Lassina Zerbo, secretary general of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), said on Sunday that a Middle East free of nuclear weapons could not happen without a test-free zone.
“If people in the region are concerned about the Iran nuclear deal, one of the things they should see is that it can only contribute to building confidence in the region,” he said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Abu Dhabi.
“It could conclude a framework for countries in the Middle East and the Gulf, [such as] Iran, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to adhere to all pending arms control and non-proliferation treaties that are out there.”
The UAE has signed and ratified a number of nuclear treaties, including the CTBTO’s treaty, which prevents nuclear testing, and the United Nations’ Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which is the main legal framework for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Hamad Alkaabi, UAE Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the UAE viewed global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament as critical to regional and international peace and security.
“The comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty is instrumental in achieving the goals of nuclear disarmament,” he said. “This year marks 70 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and yet the international community has not been able to put the CTBT into force.”
Although the treaty has now reached 183 signatures and 164 ratifications, Mr Alkaabi said more needed to be done.
“The UAE will continue to support all efforts to reach this end,” he said. “In particular, the UAE has been encouraging states that have not yet signed and ratified the treaty to do so without further delay.”
Dr Zerbo said the UAE could be of great help to organisations like the CTBTO.
“I think they can help us to deal with what is happening in the region, a region that is difficult,” he said. “They could be of help in defusing the tensions that are here, should they have the will to [lead], which they can because they have the possibilities – financially, technically and politically.
“We need a country that can lead this region into that process of confidence-building that is required for all countries in the Middle East to adhere to the arms control and non-proliferation treaties that are still pending.”
He called nuclear security a global issue linked to arms control, making them a priority on the international agenda.
“We talk less about this organisation and what it is capable of but civil society needs to focus a bit on what contribution it brings to regional peace and security as well as international peace and stability,” he said. “I told UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah last year that I wanted to get more leadership from the UAE in the region to help others to join a consensus.
“We’re talking of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons but my point is, how can we have that if we don’t even have a Middle East free of testing? If we agree to have a test-free zone, it is a key element to the process towards a region free of nuclear weapons.”
Lady Barbara Judge, former head of the UK Atomic Energy Agency, said the UAE was seen as a leader in civil nuclear infrastructure projects.
“This is because it is on the way to completing the construction and beginning the operation of arguably the world’s most impressive new nuclear power station built recently,” she said.
Edward Knee, of the Nuclear Economics Consulting Group, said the UAE’s involvement was crucial. “The UAE is committed to peaceful uses of nuclear energy,” he said. “A role in the CTBTO demonstrates a deep and continuing commitment to [that] and it provides a model for other nuclear countries.”