Meeting Unlikely to Break Disarmament Impasse, Diplomats Say

(Sep. 20) -The international Conference on Disarmament, shown meeting last year. Senior-level representatives from U.N. member nations have little chance in talks this week of ending a deadlock at the 65-nation body, according to diplomats (Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images).
(Sep. 20) -The international Conference on Disarmament, shown meeting last year. Senior-level representatives from U.N. member nations have little chance in talks this week of ending a deadlock at the 65-nation body, according to diplomats (Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images).

A meeting set for Friday of Cabinet-level delegates from U.N. member nations has little chance breaking a stalemate at the international Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland, diplomats told Reuters yesterday (see GSN, July 22).

The 65-nation conference in 2009 broke a deadlock that had lasted for more than 10 years, agreeing to a work plan that addressed four issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cutoff pact, the prohibition of space-based weapons, and an agreement by nuclear-armed states not to use their strategic weapons against nations that do not possess such armaments. Pakistan initially endorsed the plan, but later withdrew its consent and demanded further consideration of the program.

"We must not discount the possibility that, without a concerted dose of political will, this institution will atrophy into irrelevance," Laura Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to the conference, said ahead of the planned meeting at the United Nations in New York.

The conference prepared the Biological Weapons Convention and Chemical Weapons Convention and worked intensively on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. However, the longtime impasse means the "sleepwalking" body should be given only one year to demonstrate progress, Canadian Ambassador Marius Grinius said.

Russian and U.S. agreement in April on a new bilateral nuclear arms control treaty has had little influence on the conference, disconcerting some officials (see related GSN story, today).

"There is a dynamic surrounding disarmament and nonproliferation, but the CD hasn't taken off. The CD is stuck in the middle of nowhere. It's a real problem," one Western diplomat said. "Nobody sees a way out."

As the possibility of agreement Friday on beginning fissile material cutoff talks has diminished, some officials have called for groups of nations to begin negotiations outside the conference, Reuters reported.

"I don't expect there to be a magic bullet that will produce immediate results," one envoy said. "There is no plan to walk away from the CD, but one could consider discussions in tandem."

The United States was previously unenthusiastic about such talks. "But after well over a decade of inaction in Geneva, new approaches may be called for," Kennedy said. "Patience is running out for many states, including the United States."

Pakistan has no intention of letting conference deliberations move forward , said Zamir Akram, the nation's ambassador to the conference. Akram referred to Islamabad's concerns about India's larger supply of fissile material and "discriminatory" nuclear trade pacts negotiated by New Delhi and Washington.

"Pakistan's security concerns can be addressed only once we have developed sufficient capacity to ensure our deterrent is credible in the face of growing asymmetry," the Pakistani ambassador said. "My instructions are: 'We continue to maintain our position'" (Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, Sept. 19).

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference began today in Vienna, the Xinhua News Agency reported (Xinhua News Agency, Sept. 20). A debate over Israel's nuclear program is expected to be the major issue at the 151-nation meeting, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Sept. 16).

Arab nations last week rebuffed Washington's plea not to resubmit a resolution demanding that Israel open its nuclear program to international scrutiny. Israel is widely presumed to be the only nuclear-armed nation in the Middle East, although Jerusalem has neither confirmed nor denied possessing nuclear weapons.

The nuclear body narrowly adopted the proposal in 2009, and IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano was ordered to "work with member states towards achieving" Israeli entry into the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Arab governments, though, criticized Amano's report on his efforts as "weak and disappointing" and "devoid of any substance and not up to the typical level of the agency's reporting."

The Obama administration, though, warned that resubmitting last year's resolution could endanger a planned 2012 meeting on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Sept. 19).

Elsewhere, Amano last week received a request from Russia and the United States for his agency to oversee the elimination of their excess weapon-capable plutonium (see GSN, April 17; International Atomic Energy Agency release I, Sept. 17).

In Vienna, the IAEA governing board on Friday wrapped up a five-day meeting (International Atomic Energy Agency release II, Sept. 17).

Sudan appears likely to seek membership in the 35-nation body, the Sudan Vision reported yesterday (Sudan Vision, Sept. 19).

September 20, 2010
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A meeting set for Friday of Cabinet-level delegates from U.N. member nations has little chance breaking a stalemate at the international Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Switzerland, diplomats told Reuters yesterday (see GSN, July 22).