Constructive atmosphere after conclusion of General Debate at NPT Review Conference

Day 4: Delegates to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have wrapped up the general debate on Day 4 of the Review Conference so it is possible to take stock after states staked out their positions in public.

It is clear that there is a constructive atmosphere at the meeting, in contrast with the last Review Conference five years ago when George Bush was US president which concluded in dismal failure. But it remains to be seen how the goodwill towards the Obama Administration will be reflected in any final document.

All states have stated that is high time to implement a 15-year old resolution on the Middle East providing for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Closed-door negotiations are under way between Egypt and the United States but also involving the other nuclear weapons states (Russia, France and China) and the Arab League. But nobody is expecting a speedy outcome to the talks which focus on Egypt’s proposal for an international conference that would include both Israel —which is presumed to have a nuclear arsenal but which is not an NPT member – and Iran.

The nuclear weapons states —known as the Permanent Five because of their position as permanent members of the UN Security Council —issued a joint statement on Tuesday. In the document they stated their readiness “to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the Review Conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps” towards implementing the 1995 resolution.

However Lebanon, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, highlighted the “double standards” of nuclear weapons states regarding Israel. Lebanon’s delegate said that Israel’s refusal to join the NPT as a non nuclear weapons state undermined the NPT’s ability to achieve security. He added that unless steps were taken towards a nuclear free zone, Arab states would review their security options —and possibly set off a nuclear arms race.

There is unanimity on the need for the global treaty banning all nuclear weapons explosions, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to come into force as a matter of urgency. Many speakers praised Indonesia for announcing its decision to ratify the treaty. The Obama administration has stressed its renewed efforts towards ensuring that the US Senate will ratify the CTBT, although this is unlikely during 2010. The pact can only come into force when nine states, including the United States and Indonesia, have ratified.

All speakers similarly called for the opening of negotiations in Geneva for a fissile material cut-off treaty, which has been blocked by Pakistan. Norway suggested that if progress was not made at the Conference on Disarmament, agreement should be negotiated outside that forum.

But the consensus ended there. States from the non-aligned movement predictably criticized the nuclear weapons states for not doing enough to meet their disarmament commitments under the treaty, although the signing of New START by the United States and Russia was welcomed.

More controversial issues included Washington’s push to encourage states to join the regime of toughened inspections under the Additional Protocols of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Speakers from non-aligned states reaffirmed that they wished to keep this as a voluntary step under the treaty.

Other important issues addressed by speakers during the first four days of the conference included those related to Iran’s nuclear program concerning treaty compliance and withdrawal from the NPT.

Many speakers, particularly from the non-aligned movement, called for a convention on nuclear disarmament within a specific timeframe. But the nuclear weapons states are opposed to this and the Permanent Five statement made no mention of it.

From next week, the conference continues in committees focused on upholding the three pillars of the NPT —on disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Negotiations will also continue on a draft action plan for the future.

Anne Penketh is currently attending the NPT RevCon in New York.

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