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January 19, 2011
Talks on Southeast Asia NWFZ Resume
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Xiaodon Liang

For the first time in a decade, representatives of the five recognized nuclear-weapon states met last month with officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for discussions on the ratification of the protocol to the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, also known as the Bangkok Treaty. The protocol would commit the nuclear-weapon states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to abide by the articles of the treaty and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against states-parties.

Although the Aug. 8-12 Geneva meeting did not yield any publicly announced developments, Indonesia, the current chair of the commission overseeing the treaty’s implementation, has confirmed that parties will meet again in October to continue talks. In an Aug. 8 speech, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hailed the resumption of dialogue with the nuclear-weapon states as a “breakthrough.” At a July summit in Bali, ASEAN foreign ministers had welcomed the initial scheduling of the August consultations and stated that they hoped to achieve support for a UN General Assembly resolution on the nuclear-weapon-free zone during the 66th session, which will start Sept. 13.

The treaty, which entered into force in March 1997, bans the acquisition, possession, control, testing, transport, and stationing of nuclear weapons in the territory of the 10 ­signatory states.

Although China has previously expressed its willingness to ratify the protocol, the other four nuclear-weapon states cite outstanding issues with the geographical scope of the treaty as obstacles. Since the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have expressed willingness to resume negotiations on the Bangkok Treaty’s ratification.