Athens Dialogue report released

Australia, now that it has secured a seat on the UN Security Council, should use all its influence to make the Middle East a nuclear free zone, argues La Trobe University Professor Joseph Camilleri.

Athens Dialogue full imageA recently published report by La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue and the European Public Law Organisation recommends the dropping of all preconditions and the restarting of talks to free the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and negotiating an end to the Palestine crisis.  

It has also proposed establishing a UN Regional Centre for Peace and Security in the Middle East to match similar centres in other conflict-prone regions of the world. 

The La Trobe University Centre for Dialogue was founded by Professor Camilleri, a leading international relations scholar. He has long argued that Australian leaders need to do more to advance the cause of comprehensive nuclear disarmament. 

A joint La Trobe-European dialogue, held in Athens in November last year, was initiated to support the proposed Helsinki Conference on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMDFZ). The Helsinki Conference was meant to be convened by the United Nations, the United States, Britain and Russia in December 2012, but did not eventuate.

Professor Camilleri says that while the postponement of the Helsinki Conference suggests ‘the way ahead will be riddled with obstacles, there is no reason to think that the door is irrevocably shut.’

‘Finland remains committed to hosting such a conference some time later this year,’ he says. ‘Australia should use all its influence to make this a reality.’

The Athens Dialogue brought together 37 participants, including Iran’s chief negotiator as well as broad representation from Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, Iranian and other Middle Eastern civil society leaders, former diplomats and some diplomatic representatives.

Professor Camilleri says the gathering was ‘marked by extraordinary respect and empathy between participants’.
‘Using the dialogue method developed and refined over many years by the La Trobe Centre for Dialogue, the meeting generated a range of connections, opportunities for networking and ideas on possible pathways forward for Middle Eastern governments and communities,’ says Professor Camilleri.

Co-author of the report, Nicholas A.J. Taylor, says that bringing these leaders together to better understand one another’s point of view is the beginning of a long but necessary process, and Australia should do everything in its power to facilitate this.

‘Having a seat on the Security Council makes it easier for Australia to promote dialogue in regions such as the Middle East,’ says Mr Taylor.

‘The fact that the Centre for Dialogue, with vital support from the European Public Law Organisation, was able to facilitate the Athens Dialogue clearly shows that the Australian Government can play a significant role in working towards a WMDFZ in the Middle East.’

Mr Taylor says that the establishment of a WMDFZ is a long-standing policy aim, but that the progress made in 2010 calling for an international conference has yet to bear fruit.

‘Since 1974, Middle Eastern states have pressed for the creation of a WMDFZ, similar to the nuclear free zones that exist elsewhere in the world. It is time to think creatively about how to implement this goal.’

Proposals emerging out of the Dialogue also included new confidence-building measures to promote Middle East denuclearisation, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to be ratified by all states in the region; new regional processes to pursue denuclearisation, such as a regional agreement by governments not to attack nuclear installations anywhere in the region; and new civil society initiatives to encourage Middle Eastern governments to enter into negotiations, for example the Creation of a Middle East Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament.

The Athens Dialogue was also supported by the University of Queensland and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).

Printed copies of the report are available on request.

The report can be downloaded here [PDF 1.96MB].

The summary of recommendations [PDF 198KB] is also available.

The research has resulted in the following article: N.A.J. Taylor, Joseph A. Camilleri and Michael Hamel-Green, ‘Dialogue on Middle East biological, nuclear and chemical weapons disarmament: Constraints and opportunities’, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 38(1), 2013, 78-98.


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