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189 Nations Reaffirm Goal of Ban on Nuclear Weapons

Posted by alanmirs on May 29, 2010

189 Nations Reaffirm Goal of Ban on Nuclear

Published: May 28, 2010

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
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
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

“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
’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

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.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 29,
2010, on


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