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New approach sought to reduce regional tensions.

Former diplomat and UN weapons inspector for Iraq, Hans Blix yesterday urged governments to engage in "outside of the box thinking" to help overcome the current standoff in the region and the possible repercussions of any sort of military action.

Giving his keynote speech at the opening of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) conference on nuclear non-proliferation in the Gulf at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Services in Qatar, Blix said prominent powers involved in the ongoing question of nuclear proliferation in the region, namely the US, Iran and Israel, need to explore other possibilities if a peaceful resolution is to be found.And he warned of the dangerous consequences of failing to do so, and the threat of proliferation throughout the region.

The conference has been organised in association with Qatari and UK foreign ministries, and is being attended by some 50 European, US and regional experts, analysts, diplomats and officials."Nowhere in the world is the question of non-proliferation more burning than in this region and nowhere would the consequences of a failure to prevent proliferation be more seriously felt than in the Gulf region," said Blix. "More fingers on or near the nuclear trigger spells greater danger - a development leading to fewer fingers on or near nuclear triggers should also be considered," he said, warning of the potential escalation in weapons development which could be caused by enrichment programmes in the region.

Assistant dean for academic affairs at Georgetown, Kai-Henrik Barth said: "Most experts are convinced that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) prevented further proliferation; many students, however, do not share this view. It is our job as educators to give our students the tools and the confidence to think creatively about nuclear non-proliferation and to highlight the strengths of the NPT."

BASIC executive director, Paul Ingram described the conference as an opportunity for countries in the Gulf to raise their profile in terms of non-proliferation and disarmament. "We want to hear the views of the analysts and officials from the region to hear a different perspective than the drumbeat of war," he said.

Chairman of Qatar's National Committee for the Prohibition of Weapons, Brigadier-General Nassir al-Ali also spoke at the conference opening, where he said "co-operation is possible rather than sticking to the old labels of 'haves' and have-nots," expressing hope that "this will raise the profile of Gulf states and nuclear non-proliferation."

Yesterday, participants also discussed the future of nuclear power in the Gulf region one year after the Fukushima disaster, and how to introduce measures to ensure safety as well as non-proliferation in the future. "The Fukushima accident has rightly raised concern everywhere, but the dominant reaction in the Gulf has not been to question the entry into the era of nuclear power but rather to examine what measures should accompany the entry to avoid any serious accidents," noted Blix.

He also put forward his suggestion of a nuclear weapon-free zone for the region, with all parties laying down their arms and military capabilities for mutual benefit. "An Israeli opinion poll some time ago showed a majority of Israeli Jews preferring that there should be no nuclear weapon state in the Middle East to there being two," he said. "The concept of a zone free from nuclear weapons was once developed with an eye primarily on the proliferation problem posed by Israel," he explained, adding "today, Iran's enrichment capability and other sensitive nuclear installations are obviously just as much in focus. To respond to today's problems the zone concept should, in my view, be expanded to have regard to not only weapons, but also - at least for some period of time -- to other sensitive nuclear activities, notably fuel cycle activities."

Gulf Times Newspaper 2012

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Publication:Gulf Times (Doha, Qatar)
Date:Mar 22, 2012
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