There was a rare and powerful burst of euphoria at the UN on the final day of the NPT Review Conference, when the representatives of about 180 states agreed on a final document without a vote.
It had been a rollercoaster ride. On the previous night, the “friends of the president” of the Review Conference – including the five recognized nuclear weapons states and key countries including Egypt (chair of the non-aligned movement), Iran, Brazil, and Spain (for the EU) – had reached an overall agreement on the way forward on the three pillars of the NPT. But the deal breaker remained a reference to Israel in the draft text on implementing the Middle East resolution of 1995. The draft final document was submitted to capitals and when the Americans came back with an answer on the last morning of the conference it was a surprise to pretty much everyone that they would allow the reference to Israel and would not break the consensus.
But basically, they were still in a game of chicken. Iran would not have expected this reaction from the US. So at this point, as I understand it, the P5 decided to call Iran’s bluff, to see whether the Iranians would go along with the consensus or pull down the entire conference for its own reasons. The plenary session was supposed to start at 11 a.m. but at 11.30 it seemed that Iran was going to block the consensus. After a delay of an hour, we were told that the plenary would resume in the General Assembly at 3pm.
Word was circulating that the P5 were prepared to call a vote – an unprecedented measure at a Review Conference – which was obviously part of the psychological pressure on Iran. If there had been such a vote, Iran’s isolation would have been exposed. We now know that the Russian foreign minister called the Iranian foreign minister at 12, and he was told that the Iranians would not block. But then everyone was in suspense until 3pm waiting to see what would actually happen. When the document was adopted there was a palpable emotion in the General Assembly hall: the Egyptian chief delegate delivered a particularly poignant speech about the value of working together which opened the floodgates to other delegates to pay tribute to colleagues for a job well done. In particular, the conference president, Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, was singled out for producing the document which was adopted as the “president’s statement’.
There were of course disappointments, as several countries pointed out in their closing speeches. There was no firm timeframe for disarmament by the nuclear weapons states. Appeals from the Non-Aligned Movement and many NGOs for the start of negotiations on a convention eliminating nuclear weapons were ignored — although the final document does for the first time mention such a convention. The text was in retreat on the issue of the removal of US tactical weapons from Europe, compared to the final document of the 2000 Review Conference, containing no specific mention of that weapons category. Iran escaped being named for being in non-compliance with its safeguards commitments.
But the bottom line is that there is a tangible result at a Review Conference for the first time in 10 years. Against all the odds, there has been a decision to hold a Middle East conference in 2012 at which all the states of the region would discuss security for the first time. The euphoria may not last – you had only to listen to US Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher’s speech to wonder whether Israel would attend after all – but it was a moment to savor.
Anne Penketh attended the NPT RevCon in New York for the entirety of the month-long conference.