The scheduled conference in Helsinki on December 2012 on the establishment of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was cancelled by the United States. This will have implications for the regional and global comprehensive nuclear disarmament, since it would severely damage the foundations of trust that is very much needed in any disarmament initiative.

The Helsinki Conference was endorsed at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference in 1995 but never acted on. The NPT conference was considered as part of a bargain in which non nuclear weapon states agreed for indefinite extension of the NPT. In this context, the nuclear weapons states agreed to make systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons globally and to further diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies. Thus, the project for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (MENWFZ) evolved in the span of time and became part of the agenda of the NPT and its review conferences.

In 1974, Iran introduced the project of MENWFZ and later Egypt endorsed it. Ever since 1980, the United Nations General Assembly regularly adopted resolutions calling for, and stressing the importance of, creating of a NWFZ in the Middle East. Egypt expanded this Plan in 1990 including all weapons of mass destruction (MEWMDFZ). It was in that vein that convening of a conference for the WMD-free zone in the Middle East was planned. Later during the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the 189 parties to the Treaty called for convening a conference on this issue in 2012, subsequently the United States, Russia, Britain, and the UN secretary-general were designated as the organizers of the conference.     

All countries in the Middle East welcomed the positive move and planned accordingly to attend the conference. Israel at first refused to make its stand clear on this conference, but later when the deadline for the conference on December 2012 was approaching, signaled that it would not take part in the conference. Apparently, that was enough to spark the process of cancelation of the conference by the United States.

That unilateral policy by the U.S. was yet considered as another indication by the international community that the future of the NPT, given its widest adherence of any arms control agreement, with only India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea remaining outside, is now more than ever linked to that of the American drive for global primacy in the military–political field. Officially, the U.S. State Department blamed “current conditions in the Middle East", in the aftermath of the Arab Awakening. 
Many experts believe that Washington's attempt to cancel the conference stemmed from the fear that the conference could be used as a forum to scrutiny Israel's nuclear arsenal. Yet, Washington was quick, as usual,   to denounce Iran as the main cause of its decision and thus calling off the conference. That is while everyone know that the cause of cancellation was primarily Israel, the only one who possesses nuclear weapons in the region.
In a not unrelated event and as the Helsinki Conference was called off by the US, the United  Nations General Assembly on  December 4, 2012 overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling Israel to join the NPT "without further delay", and for opening its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, as expected, Israel defiantly dismissed the overwhelming vote of 174 nations calling it, “meaningless mechanical vote." rejecting any nuclear transparency like the past.
Before Iran's announcement in taking part in the Helsinki Conference, some media outlets close to Israel, speculated that Israel and Iran are both on the same lane and not interested in participating in the conference. Apparently, by this tactic, these media have intended to find a duo beside Israel in order to divert attention from Israel, and find another partner to put the blame on it. The plan however failed soon when Iran officially announced that it supports the Conference.
From Tehran’s perspective, Washington's fear was that the conference would provide Iran an opportunity to expose Israel and the United States’ hypocrisy on their policies regarding Iran's peaceful nuclear program. Tehran also blamed Washington for a "serious setback" to the NPT, and as a clear sign that the U.S. is not committed to the obligation of a world free of nuclear weapons. According to the Iranian perception, the Helsinki Conference not only symbolizes the commitment of nuclear power states to the NPT; but a successful conference on the nuclear free zone would also help eliminate ambiguities raised by Western powers regarding Iran's nuclear program. Consequently, Iran and all other Arab states in the region were earnestly looking forward to this conference.
 Of course, the countries in the region which have regarded this conference as a positive move toward nuclear disarmament, are very well aware of the fact that they should not expect a concrete outcome from this conference in one sitting. However, they considered this long awaited conference to be as a confidence building measure and a starting point for the establishment of a region free of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, it was very disappointing for them to see how all their efforts became futile at the whim of the only party having nuclear weapons in the region.
Tehran has argued for long time that the discriminatory policies in the nuclear field would not only undermine the very nature and relevance of the NPT, but it would threaten the fundamentals of the legal structure of international system. It has also warned, in different occasions, that the system is becoming increasingly dysfunctional because it has been often manipulated by great powers. In the recent years, there is a strong belief among the Iranians that great powers are punishing them for their independent foreign policy, and in this process they have sacrificed and hijacked the NPT. 
While the conveners of the Helsinki Conference, being unhappy with the U.S. decision to cancel the conference like other countries, have expressed their regrets that the conference will not be convened at the scheduled time, they have reaffirmed their commitments to convene the conference in the future. However, making the conference dependent on Israel's participation leaves no place for optimism; given the fact that Israel is apt to continue to capitalize on this issue in order to circumvent international scrutiny into its nuclear arsenal.
Under these circumstances, the postponement and vagueness about the future of the Helsinki Conference, has raised frustration and a sense of betrayal. Indeed, this could deepen the existing distrust and further damage the confidence for regional and global comprehensive nuclear disarmament. For the sake of upholding the NPT regime, and similar disarmament initiatives, the Helsinki Conference should be held as soon as possible, and preferably before the next session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 NPT Review Conference that is scheduled on April 22- May 3, 2013 in Geneva.

* Nasser Saghafi-Ameri is a former senior Iranian diplomat, and a scholar and author in the fields of foreign policy, international security, and nuclear disarmament.