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New Nuclear Disarmament Talks Open in Geneva

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

The international "open-ended working group" in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday conducts a session addressing "Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations" (United Nations photo). The international "open-ended working group" in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday conducts a session addressing "Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations" (United Nations photo).

WASHINGTON -- A newly created United Nations forum this week began its first discussions on how to advance multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts in light of a long-running stalemate at the 65-nation conference assigned primary responsibility for arms control negotiations.

The initial session of the "open-ended working group" in Geneva, Switzerland, will consider existing nuclear arms control initiatives as well as obstacles to achieving further progress in curbing global atomic arsenals and related materials, said the panel's chairman, Ambassador Manuel Dengo of Costa Rica. The temporary body is slated to continue discussions through May 24 and convene two more meetings over the summer, according to a press release from the United Nations Office at Geneva. The group is to issue a final, comprehensive declaration of its findings for review by the U.N. General Assembly.

Every recognized nuclear power except China opposed the new body in a December vote by the General Assembly in favor of its creation. In March, Washington said it did not support "nonconsensus-based efforts" to achieve progress in nuclear disarmament talks.

Several governments delivered statements to the group this week; Japan and Germany stressed a need to achieve progress in negotiating a treaty to ban production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, while Iran pressed for a disarmament push incorporating nuclear-weapon states.

The open-ended working group's May schedule includes a number of nongovernmental expert panel discussions on topics including arms verification and nuclear weapon-free zones.

The forum is distinct from the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament. The latter body, which requires consensus for its decisions, has failed for more than 15 years to make progress in establishing a work plan for negotiation of new arms control treaties. Pakistan first accepted and then rejected a 2009 work plan based on objections to the proposed fissile material cutoff treaty.

"The CD’s preoccupation with trying to agree [on] a basis for detailed work on nuclear disarmament and other core issues has meant that only cursory attention has been directed to the substance of the issue," the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research said in a report requested by the open-ended working group's Costa Rican chairman.

The Conference on Disarmament on Tuesday convened the first public plenary of the second segment of its 2013 session. Canada and the United States have both taken issue with plans for Iran to assume presidency of the conference on May 27.

A senior U.N. official on Wednesday suggested nuclear disarmament talks ultimately cannot proceed without the participation of all states in possession of atomic capabilities.

"To be effective, an FMCT [fissile material cutoff treaty] would have to include all states with the relevant capability. An FMCT among the non-nuclear like-minded alone would run the risk of failing to reach its broader objectives," U.N. Undersecretary General Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said in prepared remarks at the Palais des Nations, where the open-ended working group discussions were taking place.

"If we allow [the Conference on Disarmament] to be torn down, we will only create an even greater void, with very limited opportunities to put in its place a meaningful mechanism," he said.

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