December 15, 2011

I am writing to report, somewhat belatedly, on an ongoing trip to Turkey by Patrice Sutton and myself on behalf of PSR and IPPNW, centering on an IPPNW Mideast/Mediterranean regional meeting that took place in Ankara a few days ago. The purpose of the meeting was to lay the groundwork for IPPNW support for establishing a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East, a stated aim within the concluding document from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty conference of 2010.

The meeting successfully concluded with an an important statement from IPPNW detailing a variety of important measures imperative for developing the basis for eliminating nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass detraction from the region.

This was our first time in Turkey, and interestingly, we arrived in Istanbul the same day as US Vice President Joe Biden, who had come to Turkey to encourage better alignment with US foreign and military policy towards the region, as well to better facilitate Turkish integration within US free trade policy objectives. Istanbul is an immense, sprawling city of close to 15 million people, appearing highly congested and very polluted on our arrival. We had a great time seeing the sights, and viewing first-hand the contradictions of a society juggling modernizing and Islamic trends, with the scene on the street including many women in headscarves in extremely fashionable clothing, not infrequently wobbling atop stiletto high heels.

Before heading to Ankara for the IPPNW meeting, Patrice and I had very informative meetings with members of the Istanbul Medical Chamber, and a few days later later with the Diyarbakir Medical Chamber in the predominantly Kurdish region in southeast Turkey regarding IPPNW’s work on nuclear abolition, including the objectives of the Ankara meeting. However, in order to more quickly report on the important outcomes of the Ankara meeting, I’ll report on those events in a subsequent posting.

The Ankara meeting was held on December 8 and 9th, and was attended by IPPNW representatives from a number of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries (see list of IPPNW signatories in the final). We received an extraordinary presentation about Mideast politics from Dr. Ozlem Tur, a professor of international relations from Ankara Middle East Technical University, who underscored the persistent difficult, and rapidly evolving situation in the Middle East, ranging from the currently intractable Israel–Palestine problems, through the very fluid and explosive situations in countries such as Egypt and Syria. As such, meeting participants recognized that at this juncture, it would be extremely difficult for the delegates to be able to adequately address underlying political issues that impact progress on disarmament in the region. Rather, delegates concentrated on developing a political document that advocated concrete disarmament goals and objectives that would speed the path towards nuclear abolition, and at the same time, by diminishing the volatility in the region, improve the chances for general peace in the Middle East.

I believe that the final document has accomplished just that–it contains a series of comprehensive, mutually reinforcing steps that would be necessary for achieving a nuclear weapons free zone. These include guaranteeing the elimination of all other weapons of mass destruction from the region, including biological and chemical weapons, which could be done by improving verification and inspection protocols of their respective Conventions, and increasing the funding to carry them out. In addition, the statement expresses opposition to planned nuclear power projects in the region that could increase the chances of regional nuclear proliferation, as well as indicates opposition to continued arms sales by the US, Russia, and other nations (exemplified by the planned $60 billion US arms sale to Saudi Arabia). The final document also clearly states IPPNW opposition to planned US/NATO deployment of national missile defense systems that have already been shown to be highly provocative to Russia, and which could unravel the gains of the recent New START treaty.

I’d certainly welcome any feedback from you about the document, which we at PSR/IPPNW hope will serve to help push nuclear weapons powers who have to date avoided upholding their explicit obligations under Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to move rapidly towards nuclear disarmament, and who have been resistant to achieving a NWFZ in a region within which regional nuclear conflict remains possible, especially given the presence of the Israeli nuclear stockpile, and the current standoff with Iran, whereby threats of an Israeli attack on Iran surface regularly in the press, supported, directly or indirectly, by numerous Republican candidates for president.

I’ll be back to you shortly with other reports discussing interesting discussions with colleagues within a number of Turkish Medical Chambers of import to our common work towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

All the best, Bob.