Big powers say nuclear treaty at risk, cite Iran

The five major nuclear-armed powers said on Friday the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was under threat and cited Iran’s uranium enrichment campaign in a rare joint call for action to shore up the NPT.

North Korea’s nuclear test blast in 2006, Iran’s pursuit of potentially bomb-capable enrichment and new allegations Syria covertly tried to build an atomic reactor with North Korean help spotlight growing challenges to the treaty, many analysts say.

”The proliferation of nuclear weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security,” the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France said in a joint address on the final day of a two-week meeting of 106 NPT member nations.

”This … imperils prospects for progress on other NPT goals such as nuclear disarmament and hurts prospects for expanding international [civil] nuclear cooperation,” said British chief delegate John Duncan, speaking on behalf of the five.

”The proliferation risks presented by the Iranian nuclear programme continue to be a matter of ongoing serious concern to us.” Tehran is under UN sanctions for refusing to suspend the work and curbing UN inspections meant to verify its nature.

Iran says it wants only electricity from enrichment, which can also produce atom bomb fuel if the process is adjusted.

The five said they stood squarely behind a revised packet of economic incentives which they, along with Germany, plan to present to Iran soon to shelve its uranium enrichment programme.

The four Western powers and Russia and China have often struggled to agree on a mix of carrots and sticks for dealing with Iran. But they told NPT members they aimed to resolve the standoff with Iran ”innovatively through negotiations”.

Iran denounced their surprise statement as ”destructive and counterproductive” and said it ”seriously questions their political will for the negotiated solution they call for”.

”We will never bow to threats and definitely not give up our inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear energy under the NPT, Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said, his voice rising.

The powers urged North Korea, which bolted from the NPT in 2003, to carry out a now-stalled six-party accord to disarm.

Syria added to NPT controversy

Syria, like Iran repeatedly fingered by Washington and some allies at the meeting, was omitted from the powers’ statement due to Russian and Chinese reservations about US intelligence purporting to show Damascus was close to completing a secret reactor before Israeli warplanes destroyed it last September.

Syria has rejected the findings as ”forged” but is now under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation.

The five-power appeal tried to address grievances of developing nations ahead of another meeting in 2009 to finalise proposals for a decision-making NPT Review Conference in 2010, five years after the last one collapsed amid squabbling.

Nuclear states have said that what the NPT needs most is tougher safeguards on transfer of nuclear technology.

Developing states balk, saying this would wipe out their NPT right to peaceful uses of atomic energy. They also say the original nuclear powers have undermined respect for the treaty by lagging on commitments to disarm, a charge they deny.

The five powers championed IAEA-driven proposals for a multilateral nuclear fuel bank under depoliticised agency control to supply refined uranium to developing states as an alternative to indigenous development of enrichment.

This was a high priority for the 2010 conference, in addition to stronger non-proliferation safeguards, they said. – Reuters

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