UNITED NATIONS - Less than 72 hours before it completes its two-year term in the 15-member U.N. Security Council, Syria formally introduced a resolution Monday calling for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the politically volatile Middle East.
The resolution, which was apparently prompted by Libya's decision last week to come clean on its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), is implicitly aimed at Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons.
After closed door consultations, Syrian Ambassador Fayssad Mekdad told reporters Monday he was not sure whether the draft resolution will be put to a vote before Wednesday, when Syria leaves the Security Council after its two-year stint as a non-permanent member.
''We are giving members of the Security Council time to consult with their capitals. We will have to wait and see what the next step should be,'' he added.
The draft resolution calls for a Middle East free of all WMD, ''in particular nuclear weapons''.
Mekdad said Syria introduced the proposal on behalf of the 22 Arab countries at the United Nations. The resolution was also endorsed by the 117 members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the 54-nation Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), he added.
If the Council fails to vote on it by Wednesday, Mekdad said, the new Arab member in the Council, Algeria, ''will continue to pursue the objectives of the resolution''.
Algeria begins its two-year term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council on Jan. 1.
A diplomat of a southern nation told IPS the outcome of the resolution is ''highly predictable''. ''As a close ally of Israel, the United States will block any attempts to adopt the resolution -- even if it is called upon to exercise its veto powers,'' he added.
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper 'Haaretz' last week, the head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed el-Baradei said his Organization assumes that Israel is armed with nuclear weapons.
In April, the 'Washington Post' quoted U.S. intelligence sources as saying that Israel might have as many as 300 nuclear weapons and missile warheads.
''I am not happy with the status quo because I see a lot of frustration in the Middle East due to Israel sitting on nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons capability, while others in the Middle East are committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),'' el-Baradei added.
Without a security dialogue, he continued, Middle East nations would always have an incentive to try to develop weapons -- an attempt at military parity with Israel.
Mekdad said Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has refused to sign the NPT. All of the Arab countries are signatories, he added.
The only other two non-signatories outside the Middle East are India and Pakistan, two South Asian countries armed with nuclear weapons.
Former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala, told IPS the creation of nuclear weapon-free zones has been thwarted in regions where there are nuclear weapons capable states. South Asia is one example; the Middle East is another.
''Here the nuclear weapons-free zone proposal has been complemented by (Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak's proposal for a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction,'' he said.
''Israel remains the only country in the region not to sign the NPT, and is therefore the sole stumbling block to achieving a nuclear weapons-free zone,'' Dhanapala added.
He argued that ''a fundamental re-arrangement of priorities is necessary for the international community to build a firewall against nuclear weapon use -- accidentally or intentionally -- before we can seek durable and equitable solutions to the Middle East issues through the road map that we have''.
A nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East would be that firewall, ensuring verifiable nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament, he added.
''The existing nuclear weapons states -- some of whom have wittingly or unwittingly been responsible for proliferation -- must realize that you cannot manage proliferation acquiescing in some cases and not in others without, sooner or later, bringing down the entire edifice of the nuclear non-proliferation regime,'' he warned.
Naseer Aruri, chancellor professor (emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts, predicted that not only will the Unites States oppose the Syrian resolution but it will consider the act in itself a challenge to U.S. hegemony and supremacy and a trespass on the lone superpower's territory.
The Syria Accountability Act, passed by the U.S. Congress last month, is an instrument for the further punishment, re-mapping and re-shaping of the region's strategic landscape, he said.
The Act provides U.S. President George W. Bush with authority to impose economic, military and diplomatic sanctions against Syria for its alleged ties to international terrorism.
Aruri said that despite the fact that the draft resolution will encounter rough waters, it will be a reminder and a confirmation that Israel is indeed the major threat to world peace, as 59 percent of Europeans believe.
An October opinion poll of 500 people in each of the 15 member states of the European Union (EU) revealed that 59 percent of respondents felt that Israel was the greatest single threat to world peace, ranking ahead of Iran, North Korea and the United States.
Moreover, the U.S. policy of using U.N.-banned depleted uranium weapons and its announced plans to upgrade and develop new battlefield nuclear weapons are likely to be noted by global civil society and a less compliant world media, Aruri added.
''Syria and other sponsors may lose the vote (in the Security Council), but they are likely to win the approval of a growing anti-war and world disarmament movement."
Copyright 2003 IPS