189 Nations Reaffirm Goal of Ban on Nuclear Weapons

UNITED NATIONS — Hard-fought negotiations over the future of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ended here on Friday with 189 nations reaffirming their commitment to eliminating all nuclear weapons and setting a new 2012 deadline for holding a regional conference to eliminate unconventional weapons from the Middle East.

The complicated 28-page final document from the treaty review conference calls for the United Nations secretary general, along with the United States, Russia and Britain, to appoint a facilitator and consult with the countries of the Middle East convening the conference.

That goal was considered the landmark achievement of the negotiations, aside from reaffirming the basic premise of the treaty. Review conferences are held every five years and the last one, in 2005, ended in disarray, the gap between states with nuclear weapons and those without too wide to bridge.

Given the current tense realities in the Middle East, senior government officials and diplomats on all sides conceded that even calling such a conference, much less accomplishing any of its goals, remained a distant prospect.

“People are not going to come to a disarmament conference voluntarily if they are at war with their neighbors,” said Ellen O. Tauscher, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, who led the American delegation. Washington’s support for such a conference does not supersede the longstanding United States policy that disarmament requires a comprehensive peace in the region first, she said.

But in 1995 Arab states accepted the indefinite extension of the nonproliferation treaty, in exchange for a commitment for such a Middle East conference. Since there had been no movement on the issue for 15 years, Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt had made it clear from the outset that fellow Arab states and the nonaligned movement demanded some concrete steps to support the document this year.

Tensions over the content of the final document after a month of negotiations went down to the wire, with diplomats portraying the last few days as a poker game with the United States and Iran each trying to call the other’s bluff so that one might be blamed for the failure of the conference to reach consensus.

In the end, the United States accepted one reference to Israel in the final document, in the section on the Middle East, which basically repeats a previously stated position that Israel should join the 40-year-old nonproliferation treaty. The Israeli Mission to the United Nations would not comment on the outcome. The Israeli government has never confirmed the widespread consensus that it holds at least 100 nuclear missiles.

The document also emphasizes the need for countries to respect treaty guidelines for keeping their nuclear programs open to international inspection and suffering the consequences if they do not. Such measures are likely to strengthen the Security Council’s stand in its current confrontation with Iran over possible new sanctions because of suspicions that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons, which Tehran vehemently denies.

“My guess is that language caused the Iranians pretty significant heartburn even though they decided to go along with it,” said Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for unconventional weapons.

Much of Friday was spent waiting to hear if Iran would accept the final document. Diplomats said that the conference chairman, Libran N. Cabactulan of the Philippines, even called the leaders of Brazil and Turkey, temporary Security Council members who have been trumpeting their ability to reach a compromise with Iran, to prevail on Tehran not to foil the agreement.

In a speech after the document was adopted, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian envoy, listed at least nine ways in which Iran thought the document was weak. A proposed 2025 deadline for the elimination of all nuclear weapons had been scuttled by the nuclear weapons states, he noted, as had a proposal for a legally binding commitment from states with nuclear weapons not to use them against those without.

“It is of course far from our expectations, but at the same time it is a step forward toward our goal of disarmament,” Mr. Soltanieh told reporters. Iran had also pushed for more stringent language demanding that Israel join the nonproliferation treaty.

Earlier in the week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, met with Arab ambassadors at the White House to work out compromise Middle East language. The United States accepted dropping direct linkage between a comprehensive Middle East peace and the regional denuclearizing conference, Arab diplomats said, as well as the one reference to Israel.

The United States repeatedly said Friday that it objected to the language singling out Israel, but accepted it because consensus on the overall document underscored President Obama’s commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons.

“There is no problem with the language, but having that language in the Mideast section we think sends a really negative political signal,” Mr. Samore said. “It suggests the conference will be designed to single out Israel.” That would decrease the likelihood of such a conference ever happening, he said, which is why the United States insisted in retaining a role as a sponsor.

Given that all 189 states that have signed the nonproliferation treaty had to agree to the wording, including 64 separate ways to move forward, all the major players found flaws in the outcome. It meant many steps had to be watered down.

Although the document singles out North Korea by name, for example, saying its nuclear program constitutes a threat to “peace and security,” it was not as strong as the condemnation initially proposed.

Aside from Israel, the document also calls on India and Pakistan, both holding nuclear weapons but not nonproliferation treaty members, to join it.

While rejecting a deadline, for the first time the main five nuclear weapons states accepted vague language referring to a new, stronger international convention on eliminating nuclear weapons, and the idea of a “timeline” was introduced.

Despite differences over the pace of disarmament and proliferation concerns, the document breathes new life into a treaty seen as under threat, analysts said. “That is the positive, there is much more attention on future action and new benchmarks,” said Prof. William C. Potter, the director of the center for nonproliferation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.


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