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U.N. Chief Acknowledges Staff Doubts About Disarmament Forum

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday acknowledged his staff's pessimism about landing a breakthrough in a long-deadlocked disarmament forum.

"When I considered addressing you once again today, some of our senior advisers counseled against it. They said there are little prospects for progress this year," the U.N. chief said in opening remarks to this year's first gathering of the Conference on Disarmament in Switzerland.

Ban said, though, that he remains convinced the Geneva venue could achieve new strides.

"I decided to come and meet you. Why?" he said. "Because I am a strong believer in multilateralism.

"I want you to know that I have not given up hope for this noble body," the U.N. head said. "I want to encourage you to live up to the international community’s expectations."

The 65-nation conference was established as the primary global forum for negotiation of arms control accords. However, a proposal for an international prohibition on new nuclear-weapon fuel production has held the consensus-driven body at a standstill for more than 15 years.

The Conference on Disarmament and its predecessors have produced some key arms-control agreements in the past, including the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Ban referred, as well, to its critical role in crafting the treaty under which Syria is now working to dismantle its chemical arsenal.

"The Chemical Weapons Convention is your legacy. The CD brought it to life," Ban said. "The presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to the [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] is a recognition of the importance of disarmament and nonproliferation for world peace. I hope you will be inspired by this."

States' delegates voiced differing ideas on how to pursue substantive movement in the conference.

The United States noted that it was open to re-establishing an informal working group to support discussions on moving forward, but said it would do so only if an agreed agenda remains "elusive" over the course of 2014.

Germany, though, said the mechanism should be re-launched "without further delay."

"A substantive schedule of activities should be agreed upon for 2014," German Ambassador Michael Biontino said in a prepared statement. "We believe that the approach developed in the informal working group [last year] provides a valid basis."

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