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Time dwindling, nuke session hunts for compromises

Time dwindling, nuke session hunts for compromises

In closed-door huddles here, in calls between capitals, diplomats of 189 nations searched for 11th-hour compromises Thursday on a consensus plan for doing more to check the spread of nuclear weapons in the world.
A monthlong conference to review and strengthen the 40-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) wraps up Friday, but negotiators still must resolve differences over many issues, including how quickly nuclear-armed nations should move toward disarmament, and how to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone.
On point after point in a 29-page draft plan, delegates sought to whittle away objectionable passages and find language acceptable to all. But time was running short, tempering earlier optimism the talks could produce consensus.
It led U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to take the unusual step of writing an open letter to the conference, urging delegates "to be pragmatic and coalesce around solutions."
"There is too much at stake for the conference to repeat the failure of 2005," he wrote.
In 2005 the twice-a-decade NPT conference failed to agree on a consensus final document to advance the treaty's objectives, in part because of the stand of President George W. Bush's administration, which reversed U.S. support for such nonproliferation steps as ratification of the treaty banning all nuclear tests.
President Barack Obama has embraced the goal of nuclear disarmament, endorsed the test-ban treaty and taken other steps, such as concluding a nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia, that have improved the cooperative atmosphere at the 2010 conference.
But the ambitiousness of the draft "Final Declaration" cobbled together by the conference president, Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, was proving a challenge to negotiators.
For the first time at an NPT conference, the proposed declaration offers complex action plans for all three of the treaty's "pillars" _ nonproliferation, disarmament and peaceful nuclear energy.
Under the 1970 pact, nations without nuclear weapons committed not to acquire them; those with them _ the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China _ committed to move toward their elimination; and all endorsed everyone's right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.
The nuclear powers have viewed some disarmament proposals here as too ambitious, particularly in trying to set timelines for them to negotiate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
Cabactulan's draft would still call on the weapons states to consult among themselves on how to disarm and report back to the 2015 conference, after which a high-level meeting would convene to negotiate a "roadmap" for abolishing nuclear weapons. That plan was expected to continue to draw fire from the weapons states.
Even with a timeline, a disarmament action plan would leave a major gap, since it wouldn't oblige four nations which are not members of the treaty _ India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea _ all of which have or are suspected of having nuclear arsenals.
On the nonproliferation "pillar," the president's draft would have the conference urge all member states to accept the International Atomic Energy Agency's "additional protocol," which allows that U.N. watchdog agency to inspect suspect nuclear material and sites anytime and anywhere to guard against secret weapons programs.
But some developing nations object to the intrusiveness of such oversight, as well as to efforts to tighten up the nuclear trade, fearing this would limit their ability to develop nuclear power.
If the disarmament and nonproliferation plans are watered down, the conference's chief accomplishment _ if a consensus document is adopted _ might be in launching a process to turn the Middle East into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
That Arab proposal, to pressure Israel to give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal, was endorsed by the 1995 NPT conference but never acted on. Cabactulan's draft now foresees a 2012 conference of all Mideast states "leading to the establishment" of a WMD-free zone.
Israel has long said a full Arab-Israeli peace must precede such weapons bans. But at this conference the U.S., Israel's chief supporter, said it welcomes "practical measures" leading toward the goal of a nuke-free zone, and U.S. diplomats have discussed possibilities with Israel.
All-important details, however, such as the specific purpose and legal standing of any 2012 meeting, would remain to be worked out.


Updated : 2021-05-08 16:15 GMT+08:00