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Nuclear Conference Approves Limited Nonproliferation Measures
The 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference ended Friday with unanimous approval of a final document setting out a number of limited measures to prevent the spread of devastating weapons, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, May 28).
Among the approved steps were a commitment by the five nuclear powers -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- to expedite nuclear disarmament efforts, reduce the role that atomic weapons play in their military policies and report on their efforts in four years. The 189 NPT member states also agreed to schedule a 2012 conference "on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction."
It had been unclear even on the last day of monthlong conference whether nations such as Iran, Syria and the United States would put aside reservations to approve a consensus document aimed at strengthening the nonproliferation regime. However, the final round of activity at U.N. headquarters in New York went smoothly and the conference ended with applause from delegates.
"All eyes the world over are watching us," said Filipino Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, the conference president.
"The final document this conference adopted today advances President [Barack] Obama's vision" of global nuclear disarmament, added U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher.
The last conference, in 2005, failed to produce a consensus agreement.
This year was the first time that a review conference had offered detailed steps addressing the three "pillars" of the treaty -- nonproliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of atomic energy, according to AP (Charles Hanley, Associated Press I/Yahoo!News, May 29).
"We've got the NPT back on track. There was so much criticism about 2005 ... and a lot of doom and gloom about the treaty failing," a U.S. official told the Washington Post. "We have to hold this treaty together" (Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, May 31).
Measures included in the document included calls for entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and a continued moratorium on atomic test blasts, talks on a treaty banning production of fissile material for weapons, and negotiations on "effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear weapon states against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons," Agence France-Presse reported.
The NPT states also called on North Korea to meet denuclearization obligations reached in talks with the United States and other nations, which require "complete and verifiable abandonment of all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." The Stalinist regime should also "return, at an early date, to the treaty and to its adherence with its [International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement," the conference statement asserts (Agence France-Presse, May 28).
The final document, though, was quickly subject to criticism both by conference participants and by nations such as Israel that remain outside the treaty regime.
Treaty states addressed "the importance of Israel's accession to the NPT," AP reported. Israel is believed to hold the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, a stockpile it would have to relinquish after joining the treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state.
Tauscher argued that identifying Israel in that fashion would undermine chances for drawing the Middle Eastern nation into the 2012 conference (Hanley, Associated Press I).
It could also make it less likely that the event itself would occur, according to one senior U.S. official.
“There is no problem with the language, but having that language in the Mideast section we think sends a really negative political signal,” said Gary Samore, National Security Council coordinator for arms control and nonproliferation. “It suggests the conference will be designed to single out Israel" (Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, May 28).
Israel itself called the conference statement "deeply flawed and hypocritical," AP reported.
"It ignores the realities of the Middle East and the real threats facing the region and the entire world," according to a government statement.
Further, the document "singles out Israel" while "the terrorist regime in Iran, which is racing to develop nuclear weapons and which openly threatens to wipe Israel off the map, is not even mentioned in the resolution," it added (Amy Teibel, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, May 30).
The Obama administration also noted with frustration that the document did not specifically address Iran's nuclear activities, which are suspected in Washington and other states of having military intent.
"The failure of the resolution to mention Iran, a nation in long-standing violation of the NPT and U.N. Security Council resolutions which poses the greatest threat of nuclear proliferation in the region and to the integrity of the NPT, is ... deplorable," national security adviser James Jones said in a statement.
"As a co-sponsor charged with enabling this [Middle East] conference, the United States will ensure that a conference will only take place if and when all countries feel confident that they can attend. Because of gratuitous way that Israel has been singled out, the prospect for a conference in 2012 that involves all key states in the region is now in doubt and will remain so until all are assured that it can operate in a unbiased and constructive way," he added (White House release, May 28).
Cuba, echoing the opinion of a significant number of non-nuclear weapon states at the conference, said it wished the nuclear powers had not rejected a specific schedule for nuclear disarmament, AP reported. Havana said it did "all we could to set a time table with 2025 as the deadline for the total elimination of nuclear weapons."
The five nations agreed to "accelerate concrete progress" on nuclear cutbacks and to provide an update on their efforts in 2014. They also pledged to look at shifting down the alert status of their weapons. However, they refused to accept a plan that called for the states to conduct disarmament strategy talks ahead of the 2015 review conference and afterward to conduct senior-level talks on a "road map" for disarmament (Hanley, Associated Press I).
Nations at the conference also declared the importance of transparency by treaty states in conducting atomic operations and the potential penalties for failure to provide access to U.N. inspectors, the Times reported. That could aid the U.N. Security Council as it considers a fourth round of sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear work.
“My guess is that language caused the Iranians pretty significant heartburn even though they decided to go along with it,” Samore said.
The final conference document also urges nuclear-armed states India and Pakistan to sign the treaty (MacFarquhar, New York Times).
An Indian official said the nation has no intention of heeding that call, the Indo-Asian News Service reported.
"Our position on NPT has been clearly articulated before. India's credentials in nonproliferation are well known," the source said.
"We have made it clear that we want complete, verifiable and universal disarmament," the official added (Indo-Asian News Service/Economic Times, May 30).
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