Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  

Syria urges UN to help rid ME of nukes

Syria pushed for a ban on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the Middle East Monday, using its final days on the UN Security Council to shine a spotlight on Israel's suspected nuclear arms.

Syrian Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad, whose two-year term on the 15-nation council expires at midnight on Wednesday, asked the UN body to take up a resolution -- drafted by Damascus in April -- that is intended to rid the volatile Middle East region of all nuclear, biological and chemical arms.

But in a closed-door meeting, diplomats said, a number of the council's member nations -- including the United States, Britain and Pakistan -- expressed concerns with the Syrian text and Mekdad said he would not push for a quick vote.

The Syrian draft was "wrong in substance, wrong in timing," Deputy US Ambassador James Cunningham said.

"We don't expect the resolution to make much progress," British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told reporters.

The draft calls for "freeing the Middle East region of all weapons of mass destruction" and asks Secretary General Kofi Annan to verify whether the measure, once passed, is implemented.

Syria asked for Monday's meeting after the council last week issued a statement welcoming Libya's announcement that it was voluntarily abandoning its programs for developing weapons of mass destruction.

But Arab envoys said the draft was aimed at embarrassing Israel, widely believed to be the only country in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons though it has never officially acknowledged possessing them.

The draft resolution "is applicable to everybody, but in fact Israel is the real address in this regard, whether we like it or not, because Israel has all these kinds of weapons" and has not ratified most nonproliferation treaties, Mekdad said.

But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said the move could backfire on Syria as well as Iran, two nations believed by US intelligence to have chemical weapons stockpiles.

"The Syrians must realise that by offering a resolution on weapons of mass destruction, and not just nuclear weapons, they are potentially attracting attention to their own activities, which are suspected to include chemical weapons programs, as well as other states in the region including Iran," Kimball told Reuters in a telephone interview.

A CIA report to Congress earlier this year concluded that Damascus likely already held a stockpile of the nerve agent Sarin and appeared to be trying to develop "more toxic and persistent nerve agents," while Tehran likely already had supplies of "blister, blood, choking, and probably nerve agents and the bombs and artillery shells to deliver them." Both countries have denied the weapons charges.