11/06/2007 02:40 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Nuclear Free Zone Offers A Path to Peace

The Backbone Campaign recently initiated a series called The Leaders and Ideas to Run the Country which is beginning to play on community radio stations around the country. It features progressive leaders as nominees to prototype Progressive Cabinet. The purpose of both the series and the Cabinet project is to trumpet the often forgotten reality that progressives are part of a propositional.

An upcoming segment features Professor Stephen Zunes' "First 100 Days Statement" as a nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Middle-Eastern Affairs on our Progressive Cabinet. His three minute statement [MP3] outlines a comprehensive policy for peace in the Middle-East that includes ending the Iraq occupation, support of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and establishing a Middle-East Nuclear Free Zone.

Zunes' idea of establishing a Nuclear Free Zone struck me as an urgent and actionable way to intercept the national dialog, at the same time as "Mushroom Cloud" Condi poses as a diplomat and stages a so-called Middle-East Summit later this month. This common sense idea appeals to a universal desire for fairness and a hunger for hope in the Middle-East and across the planet. It is an aikido type policy proposal that has the potential to expose the vitriolic war mongering of the Cheney-Bush criminals for the dangerous spew that it is.

Its genius is that it substitutes hate-filled scare tactics with actual momentum for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regionally and globally. It provides a face-saving exit out of the dangerous nuclearization of the region, by exposing the elephant in the room, Israel and its estimated 300 plus nuclear weapons. Finally, it transforms those existing weapons from a well known secret to a bargaining chip for long term true security in everyone's best interest.

At first, having not once heard of such an idea in the American press, I thought that it was a new or obscure proposal. A quick Google search proved me wrong. It turns out that just last month the President of Egypt proposed the establishment of such Nuclear Free Zone to the European Union. Indeed I found references dating back to the 1970's.

Here's some of what I learned. Prince Saud al-Faisal proposed this idea at a conference in London in 2006. Also in 2006 the BBC reported that "Gulf Arab states, including Kuwait, have said they want an agreement with Iran to keep the Gulf region free of nuclear weapons." President of Iran Ahmadinejad agreed and called for the establishment of a nuclear-free zone for the entire Middle East, where all nations of the region would be required to give up their nuclear weapons and weapons programs and open up to strict international inspections. Syria as well as U.S. allies Jordan and Egypt have joined in that call.

Besides numerous related UN Resolutions, Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA discussed it with Sharon in 2004, after which he said, "The prime minister this morning affirmed to me that Israel's policy [is] that in the context of peace, establishment of peace in the Middle East, Israel will be looking for establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East," Mr ElBaradei said.

This lead me to wonder if there is support for this idea in Iran or in Israel. A recent public opinion poll in Iran found that when asked about the goal of eventually eliminating all nuclear weapons: 68 percent of Iranians are in favor; 18 percent were opposed. When asked about having a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East that would include both Islamic countries and Israel: 71 percent responded in favor; 18 percent opposed. (Source: "Public Opinion in Iran and America on Key International Issues." Conducted by World Public Published by the Program on International Policy Attitudes. 24 January 2007.)

Polling data in Israel (quoted from in a 2004 article that ran on the Inter Press Service) reflects much less support for Nuclear Disarmament within that country, with only 25 percent support for disarming. This article quotes Israeli President Shimon Peres -- who is credited for initiating the Israeli nuclear program in the 1950s -- as having said in 1995 "give me peace and we'll give up the atom. That's the whole story." The article continued quoting ElBaradei suggesting that Israel was fueling a WMD race in the Middle East. He said he feared a situation in which "there will be continued incentive for the region's countries to develop weapons of mass destruction to match the Israeli arsenal."

Some Israeli's do take that argument to heart. One group that represents them is the Committee for a Middle-East Free of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Weapons. Their spokesperson Gideon Spiro, a long time activist for peace and disarmament wrote this to Kofi Anan in 2006, when Mr Anan was still the Secretary General of the United Nations:

"We suggest that you act so that both Israel -- and Iran -- obey the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and put all their nuclear plants under International control. Steps taken against Iran's nuclear projects that are not applied also to Israel's nuclear projects lack credibility and are bound to appear as biased and as hypocrisy. We call upon you to declare that the UN supports a Nuclear-Free Middle-East and will act to make all governments in this region sign the NPT. "

Over the past two weeks I have reached out to multiple progressive members of Congress. I have asked them to use their position to help bring the idea of a Middle-East Nuclear Free Zone into the national debate, demanding that it be a central component of poser Condoleezza's peace conference. They claim they are too busy with other important initiatives or they just ignore me. One wonders, what could be more important than keeping the US or Israel from launching another illegal war? One wonders, what could be more relevant than championing a proposal that would help all in the region back away from nuclear conflict and further proliferation?

I do not believe that this administration would ever take such advice, but as nominee Prof. Stephen Zunes so often points out, we progressives must initiate a new stance toward Israel that both rejects the anti-Semitism of the past, AND breaks free the strangle hold on debate currently enforced by the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC). Additionally, it is a way to begin a chain reaction, for if Pakistan must be included, so must India, and then China, then Russia and the US. That's the kind of chain reaction we need to shift this ridiculous and dangerous debate.

As correct as the sentiment "Don't bomb Iran" is, it offers nothing new to the the national dialog. The common sense message inherent in the call for a Middle-East Nuclear Free Zone on the other hand has the potential to, in Aikido fashion, redirect the energy of the debate to a constructive future path. If not for this administration, perhaps for the next. As progressives we cannot allow ourselves to be defined merely by what we oppose. If we are preparing to run the country, and wish others to see of in such a light, then we must have the discipline to emphasize that which we propose.

Join the Backbone Campaign in calling for a regional Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle-East. Let's neuter the Neocon nincompoops and hush their insane, hypocritical rhetoric about bombing Iran. Use our Spineless Citations to "spank" the political wimps who aided them by voting for the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment. Send or FAX a Spine "Thank You" Card to those 22 Senators who refused, and ask them and your Representative in the House to call for a Regional Nuclear Free Zone, whenever they are asked about Iran. Call (800-828-0498) to tell them to quit quaking in their loafers about AIPAC, and use this opportunity to get our country back on track with Middle-East peace specifically, and nuclear disarmament in general.