No Agreement in Sight for Nuclear Treaty Conference

UNITED NATIONS — The 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference entered its final 48 hours this morning deadlocked over the inclusion of a footnote in its final document, after its three main committees failed to reach consensus on any substantive text (see GSN, May 25). 

The president of the conference, Ambassador Sergio de Queiroz Duarte of Brazil, announced this morning that the main committees would report to the plenary tomorrow morning. The plenary would then begin work on the final document, though it remains in doubt whether it will include any initiatives for reducing the nuclear threat until the next conference in 2010. 

The current roadblock relates to the same problem the conference faced earlier this month in agreeing on its agenda. The question of  how to refer to the decisions of the 1995 and 2000 review conferences blocked agreement on the agenda until half way through the four-week session.

According to diplomats, the United States opposed referring specifically to the agreements of those meetings, reflecting the Bush administration’s reversal of U.S. position on several issues, including support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. U.S. officials do not wish this year’s conference to reaffirm those goals.

A May 11 compromise agenda removed all references to previous conferences and included, as a footnote, a presidential statement that said, “It is understood that the review will be conducted in the light of the decisions and the resolution of the previous conferences, and allow for discussion of any issue raised by states parties.” 

That footnote has come back to haunt the drafting committee that will prepare the final document, which is slated to included the same presidential statement. The Nonaligned Movement, however, is seeking to add another statement to the final document that would refer to the 1995 and 2000 decisions and call on “all states parties to implement their obligations and commitments” from those conferences. The United Kingdom objected to the inclusion of that statement. The conference is now deadlocked over this issue.

“I think it’s clear now that we’re not going to have a final text,” one European delegate said yesterday after the third committee finished its work without submitting a report.

Delegates were working in three committees, each with a subsidiary panel. Main Committee I was working on disarmament, while Main Committee II addressed nonproliferation and regional issues and Main Committee III considered access to peaceful nuclear activities.

By yesterday afternoon, the three committees had finished their work without any consensus texts. The committees had texts dealing with the substantive issues on their agendas, but the texts were heavily bracketed — indicating the lack of consensus on particular language. In some cases, the entire draft was bracketed. 

Committee I agreed to submit a report, but with the caveat that members had come to no agreement on the text. Committee II decided on Tuesday not to submit its main and subsidiary body papers.

Committee III was the last to give up, during a short meeting yesterday. The Egyptian delegation objected to submitting a report by the subsidiary panel on withdrawal from the treaty, onlookers said. The U.S. delegation then blocked submission of the main committee report.

Each nation, not surprisingly, took some hits for its action.

The European delegate said the Egyptians could offer no “reasonable justification” for blocking the subsidiary panel report, and that their argument kept shifting as the discussion progressed.

“I feel really rather angry because this failure is essentially the work of one delegation and that’s the delegation of Egypt,” the delegate said.

An Iranian envoy countered that the United States remained determined to block any references to nonproliferation commitments it made in the 1995 and 2000 review conferences.

“The main problem is that the United States does not want to honor the commitment under 2000,” the Iranian official said. “Any reference to the language of the past will be objected to by the United States.”

The drafting committee, which is charged with synthesizing the various committee reports into a final document for the conference, worked behind closed doors yesterday afternoon. However, without any reports from the main committees, the drafters could only deal with the most basic, technical matters of the conference, such as how many meetings were held and who chaired the various committees. 

“This is the drafting committee. The problem is, what are they drafting?” said Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

The main committee reports, such as they are, are not scheduled to be submitted to the plenary until tomorrow morning.

In contrast to previous review conferences that went deep into the night on the final day, delegates said they expected the meeting to be gaveled to a close promptly at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

Johnson said it appears the conference has deteriorated into a series of “tit-for-tat” objections designed to frustrate other nations. The United States, Iran and Egypt have been the most public antagonists. Officials from Washington and Tehran are looking to protect their nuclear interests, while the Egyptians are protesting U.S. officials’ rejection of commitments made by the last administration, Johnson said.

The great number of the 188 treaty states “are being held hostage” by the maneuvering of a few nations, she said.

“Both sides are trying to score points and it’s a very dangerous game that they’re playing because they’re undermining security and nonproliferation,” Johnson said.

May 26, 2005

UNITED NATIONS — The 2005 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference entered its final 48 hours this morning deadlocked over the inclusion of a footnote in its final document, after its three main committees failed to reach consensus on any substantive text (see GSN, May 25).