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U.N. Chief Urges End to Conference on Disarmament Deadlock

By Chris Schneidmiller

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON – U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday called for an end to the 16-year deadlock in arms control negotiations at the international Conference on Disarmament.

“It is essential to end this continued stalemate to avoid jeopardizing the credibility of the conference and the machinery of disarmament,” Ban stated as the body began its first session of 2013. “Strengthening the rule of law in global disarmament needs a single multilateral negotiating forum.  I remain committed to the Conference on Disarmament, but it must fulfill its role.”

The conference was established in 1978 and has been key to negotiation of accords such as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

There has been no progress in recent years in efforts to initiate talks on new measures such as a treaty that would prohibit production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Pakistan objected to a work plan established in 2009 and has continued to block movement on more recent proposals. The Geneva, Switzerland-based forum operates by consensus, so any of the 65 member nations can hold up its work.

“The world today remains over-armed.  Peace is underfunded.  We cannot afford to lose yet another year,” Ban said in comments read by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, head of the U.N. Office at Geneva. “The items on your agenda, which focus mainly on weapons of mass destruction, transcend the narrow national interests of any one State and have significant implications for international peace and security.  I urge you to revive substantive negotiations without delay.”

Delegates from various nations echoed Ban’s concerns in the first day of open statements to the conference.

“2013 may be the make-or-break year for the CD,” said Hungarian Ambassador  András Dékány, the first president of this year’s initial conference session, which continues through March 29.

He noted that the U.N. First Committee in New York had last fall approved resolutions aimed at moving disarmament talks to other forums.

“This proves that the revitalization of the conference, that is the beginning of substantive work is more urgent than ever,” according to Dékány. “We are convinced that reasons for the stalemate are not procedural, but clearly political, therefore -- and without the possibility of evoking the magical kiss of a prince -- the situation can only be resolved through the common efforts of the membership of the conference.”

He pledged to continue working with national delegations and regional groupings to develop a work plan that could pass muster by all states.

Delegates from Russia and other nations also expressed disappointment over the failure to convene a planned 2012 conference on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. The event was among the actions mandated at the end of the 2010 review conference for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Diplomats had hoped to schedule the session for December in Helsinki, Finland, but those plans fell apart when it became clear Israel would not send a delegation. Tel Aviv is widely believed to hold the region’s only nuclear arsenal, though the international focus today leans more heavily on suspicions about the intent of Iran’s atomic activities.

“We regret that it was necessary to postpone -- I must stress, ‘postpone,’ not ‘cancel’ -- the conference despite our best efforts,” Laura Kennedy, U.S. permanent representative to the conference, said in her plenary statement on Tuesday. “We stand by our commitment to hold a meaningful conference that includes all states of the region.”

She called for “states of the region to engage directly with each other to bridge the conceptual differences on approaches toward regional security and arms control arrangements.”

Diplomats from Moscow and Washington are due in April to join their counterparts from Beijing, London and Paris for the fourth P-5 conference in Geneva.

Details of the upcoming talks were not immediately available. The State Department said following the last conference in June 2012 that the meeting would be conducted “in the context” of the next session of the preparatory panel for the 2015 NPT review conference. That gathering is scheduled for April 22 to May 3 in Geneva.

NTI Analysis