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Stronger Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Needed, Obama Says

(May. 6) -U.S. President Barack Obama, shown in April, yesterday said the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty must be updated to better address nuclear terrorism and proliferation (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images). (May. 6) -U.S. President Barack Obama, shown in April, yesterday said the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty must be updated to better address nuclear terrorism and proliferation (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday called for a concerted global effort to bolster the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, May 5).

Communication and discipline would be needed to make sure the pact continues to contribute to the fight for nuclear disarmament and against proliferation, Obama said in a statement read by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller at a two-week U.N. preparatory session for the 2010 NPT review conference.

"We must strengthen the NPT to deal effectively with the threat of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism," according to Obama's statement. "Action is needed to improve verification and compliance with the NPT and to foster the reponsible and widest possible use of nuclear energy by all states."

Treaty review conferences are conducted every five years at the United Nations. During the 2005 session, delegates failed to reach agreement on a program to strengthen and update the nonproliferation regime.

The Obama wants the three core treaty issues -- disarmament, nonproliferation and the right to civilian nuclear activities -- to be considered in balance during the meeting next year, Gottemoeller said. Also needed are strategies for establishing "effective consequences" for treaty violators, she said (Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press/Hindustan Times, May 6).

Gottemoeller urged India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel to join the treaty, Reuters reported. Islamabad, New Delhi and Pyongyang have acknowledged possessing nuclear arsenals of various sizes, while Jerusalem does not publicly discuss its widely assumed stockpile.

"Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea ... remains a fundamental objective of the United States," Gottemoeller said. She did not say whether the administration would make additional moves to press Israel to join the pact and eliminate its nuclear weapons.

Some delegations argued that the United States essentially rewarded India for holding out from the treaty when it signed a civilian nuclear trade agreement last year. The deal gave New Delhi access to U.S. nuclear materials and technology in exchange for opening India's civilian nuclear sites to international monitoring.

"India is coming closer to the nonproliferation regime," Gottemoeller said in defending the deal (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, May 5).

Israel scoffed at Obama's proposal.

"This treaty has proven its ineffectiveness," an unnamed senior Foreign Ministry official told Agence France-Presse. "It did not prevent countries like India, Pakistan and North Korea from acquiring nuclear arms. ... And when it comes to Iran, you can see the effect it's having."

Israel suspects that Iran's nuclear program masks an effort to produce nuclear weapons. Tehran says its operations are strictly civilian in nature (see related GSN story, today).

"It is inconceivable that in these conditions one can consider this treaty as something that can change anything in the international nuclear domain," the Israeli official said (Agence France-Presse/NASDAQ.com, May 6).

Some experts say Obama's push for global nuclear disarmament could threaten the United States' quiet agreement to shield the Middle Eastern nation's arsenal from scrutiny, the Washington Times reported today.

In joining the treaty, which permits only China, France, Russia , the United Kingdom and the United States to hold nuclear weapons, Israel would have to dispose of its estimated stockpile of 80 to 200 warheads. Washington has quietly supported Jerusalem's right to have nuclear warheads for four decades, on the expectation that Israel would not detonate any weapons.

Israeli military scholar Avnar Cohen said Obama's "upcoming meeting with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, due to the impending discussions with Iran, will be a platform for Israel to ask for reassurances that the old understandings on the nuclear issue are still valid."

"If I were the Israeli government, I would be very worried about the Obama administration's attitude on their nuclear deterrent," said former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. "You can barely raise the subject of nuclear weapons in the Middle East without someone saying: 'What about Israel?' If Israel's opponents put it on the table, it is entirely possible Obama will pick it up" (Eli Lake, Washington Times, May 6).

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