UN chief says nuclear treaty in crisis

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was suffering a crisis of confidence as member states met to debate how to prevent the pact from falling apart.

Two years after the last NPT review conference ended in deadlock after wrangling over the agenda, 188 nations began an NPT preparatory committee, running until May 11, to help pave the way to the next full conference in 2010.

The NPT binds members without nuclear bombs not to acquire them via diversions of peaceful nuclear energy know-how.

It also commits the original five nuclear weapons powers from the post-World War II era to phase out their arsenals and guarantees the right of all members to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

But North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006 after bolting the NPT and Iran’s bid to enrich uranium in defiance of UN resolutions demanding that it stop due to suspicions of a covert quest for bombs have put the treaty under unprecedented strain.

The NPT is also fraying from the perception of nuclear “have nots” that nuclear “haves” have impeded access to atomic energy for development while stalling on disarmament obligations.

Ban, in a message to the Vienna meeting read out by an aide, said there was a “crisis of confidence” in the 37-year-old NPT.

Litany of troubles

“Evidence of such a crisis is widespread,” he said, citing hold-ups in disarmament, non-compliance with NPT safeguards by some states and the failure of key nuclear powers to ratify a decade-old atomic-test-ban treaty.

“Ongoing tests of nuclear-capable missiles, possible discrimination in peaceful nuclear cooperation and the failure to implement the proposal to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East have also raised serious concerns,” said Ban.

Germany, a non-nuclear arms power speaking for the European Union as current EU president, said non-proliferation and disarmament were equally vital to global peace and security. But it also zeroed in on Iran as a serious threat to the NPT.

“The EU is united in its resolve not to [let] Iran acquire military nuclear capabilities and to see all consequences of its nuclear programme, in terms of proliferation, resolved,” German envoy Ruediger Luediking told the Vienna gathering.

Cuba, speaking as current chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing nations, recalled that they agreed to an indefinite extension of the treaty in 1995 only after being promised that nuclear-weapons powers would do more to disarm and share atomic technology for economic development.

“The lack of balance in implementing the NPT [now] threatens to unravel [it],” Cuban envoy Norma Goicochea Estenoz said.

Analysts say the emphasis on unilateral action over multilateral compromise taken by the United States after the September 11 attacks had revalued nuclear weapons as instruments of power and eroded respect for the NPT globally.

India and Pakistan, which have never joined the NPT, tested nuclear bombs in 1998 and Washington has cultivated both as strategic partners. North Korea has been offered financial incentives to freeze its nuclear arms programme.

However, Washington’s recent shift back towards negotiations to solve international security crises has raised some hope for constructive efforts to shore up the NPT.

One idea is to create a multilateral nuclear fuel bank to assure supply to developing nations so they would not need to master production technology applicable for bomb-making.—Reuters

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