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Experts Call for Pragmatic Leadership and Positive Action to Strengthen Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

U.S. and Iranian Delegations Have Misused Procedure to Block Progress 

For Immediate Release: May 20, 2005


Press Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 277-3478; Joseph Cirincione (202) 441-9825; Rebecca Johnson (646) 675-1436


(Washington, D.C.): As a month-long international conference on curbing nuclear weapons dangers moves into its final week, behind-the-scenes maneuvers by a small minority of delegations, including the United States and Iran, have frustrated progress on strengthening the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Today, several leading nuclear and security experts called on member states to seize the chance to produce a strong action plan to update and strengthen the 35 year-old treaty.

"The NPT is not broken, but it must be strengthened if past successes are to be preserved and if today's and future proliferation threats are to be rolled back. The NPT's future success depends on universal compliance with tighter rules to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, more effective regional security strategies, and renewed progress toward fulfillment of the nuclear-weapon states' disarmament obligations," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association and co-chair of the Campaign to Strengthen the NPT.

"Tragically, practical proposals to strengthen compliance and implementation of the NPT across the board are being stymied because a small number of states have chosen to play procedural games and try to rewrite history, seriously delaying the adoption of the agenda and working groups," said Rebecca Johnson of the London-based Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, presently covering the NPT in New York.

"Now very little time is available to seek common agreement on important ideas contained in the substantive working papers that could help the international community strengthen the nuclear test ban, reduce nuclear dangers, and promote further action on nuclear disarmament," said Johnson.

During the first two weeks, the conference could not agree on an agenda because the United States sought to block discussion of nuclear disarmament-related commitments and decisions from the 2000 and 1995 NPT Review Conferences. At the same time, Iran has been trying to block discussion and criticism of its advanced uranium enrichment program, which could be used to produce nuclear bomb material. This week, agreement on the organization of working groups for key agenda topics was delayed, in part, by U.S. opposition to proposals from Iran and other non-nuclear-weapon states to discuss assurances against attack or threat of nuclear attack. The conference, which involves representatives from over 160 of the nearly 190 treaty parties, generally operates by consensus.

The NPT codifies one of the most important international security bargains of all time: states without nuclear weapons pledge not to acquire them, while nuclear-armed states commit to give them up and move toward disarmament. At the same time, the NPT allows for the peaceful use of nuclear technology under strict and verifiable control.

"The U.S. delegation argues that the United States commitment to fulfill its Article VI disarmament commitments is 'unassailable,' but a closer examination of the Bush administration's nuclear stockpile numbers and actions make it clear that it has failed to move beyond Cold War-era nuclear force structure and strategies," noted Kimball.

"The administration's selective presentation of its record at the NPT conference does not hide the fact that it has taken actions contrary to U.S. disarmament commitments and obligations established by the NPT and the 1995 and 2000 NPT Review Conferences, including its publicly stated opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and negotiations on a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty, its pursuit of new nuclear weapons, and its failure to agree to deeper, verifiable, and irreversible nuclear weapons reductions," Kimball noted. (See http://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/2005/20050510_ArmsControl_Gurus.asp for a detailed analysis.)

Some U.S. and French officials have even suggested that their 2000 NPT Review Conference commitments on specific disarmament measures are no longer relevant. Former U.S. disarmament Ambassador Robert Grey has called the current U.S. stance "a radical departure from past American practice" that is a dangerous invitation for other states to ignore commitments made at previous review conferences, not the least of which is the indefinite extension of the treaty in 1995.

"As a result, the majority of countries do not believe the United States and the other nuclear-weapon states intend to live up to their NPT-related nuclear disarmament commitments, which, in turn, erodes the willingness of other states to fulfill their own treaty obligations, much less take strong action to condemn the transgressions of North Korea and Iran," noted Joseph Cirincione, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and co-chair of the Campaign to Strengthen the NPT.

"Iran for its part, has mischaracterized concern about its advancing nuclear program as an assault on developing states' Article IV 'right' to peaceful nuclear energy production," noted Kimball. "In reality, the right of states to pursue peaceful nuclear technologies must be balanced against the treaty's core mission to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The Review Conference can and should reaffirm the right of all states to energy security, while at the same time agree to freeze construction of new plants capable of producing highly enriched uranium and plutonium, which are needed for weapons but are not necessary for nuclear energy production," Kimball argued.

"There is still an opportunity to reach agreement on a balanced and comprehensive plan to strengthen compliance and implementation with the NPT," said Cirincione. A review of the national statements from the first two weeks of the conference reveal that the vast majority support a range of concrete steps that would advance both nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. (See http://www.un.org/events/npt2005/statements.html for the statements.)

"The best chance for success would be for the United States and other states to embrace the common European Union (EU) position, which balances the views of the two European nuclear-weapon states, France and the United Kingdom, with the goals of the 23 EU non-nuclear-weapon states. The EU strategy action plan reaffirms the goal of nuclear disarmament, the need for new measures to control the spread of technologies that can be used to produce nuclear weapons material, while also endorsing tougher inspections and new mechanisms to deter and punish states that withdraw from the treaty to build nuclear bombs," Cirincione argued. (The EU strategy is available at http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/legal/npt/RevCon05/GDstatements/Luxembourg-EU.pdf.)

"The 2005 NPT Review Conference is a vital opportunity for the United States and the international community to recommit to the treaty's goals and agree to a comprehensive program of action to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the nuclear danger. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to squander," urged Kimball.

For more information and updates on the NPT and the Campaign to Strengthen the NPT, visit: http://www.npt2005.org. For further analysis of key issues, see: http://www.armscontrol.org/pdf/NPTRevConf2005_MajorProposals.pdf and for updates on the conference proceedings, see http://www.acronym.org.uk/npt/index.htm.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. The Campaign to Strengthen the NPT is a joint project of ACA and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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