Disarmament and Nonproliferation New York Times:
Month of Talks Fails to Bolster Nuclear Treaty
New York Times, May 28,
WASHINGTON, May 27 - A monthlong conference at the United Nations to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ended Friday in failure, with its chairman declaring that the disagreements between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear states ran so deep that "very little has been accomplished."
The conference, which takes place every five years, had once been seen as a chance to deal with gaping loopholes in the treaty that have allowed a resurgence in the spread of nuclear weapons.
But in the months leading up to the meeting, it became clear that little progress was likely, and in the end the bickering between the United States, which wanted to focus on North Korea and Iran, and countries demanding that Washington shrink its own arsenals, ran so deep that no real negotiations over how to stem proliferation ever took place.
The gulf was so wide that the chairman, Sergio Duarte of Brazil, mused Friday on the question of whether the main treaty to limit the spread of nuclear arms, signed in 1970, was actually further weakened by the session. Asked what the fundamental cause of the failure was, he said, "I think you can write several books on that."
Though President Bush has repeatedly declared that nuclear proliferation, including the risk of terrorists' obtaining a nuclear weapon, is the biggest single threat to the United States, the administration decided against sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the conference, leaving arguments to midlevel diplomats. The 150 or so nations at the conference spent several weeks just arguing about the agenda.
Speaking in San Francisco on Friday, Ms. Rice described the treaty as "an extremely important document" and said, "We will continue to support it." But she warned that "it is fraying in many ways," and then turned to the administration's "counterproliferation" programs, from intercepting suspected nuclear cargo to bringing down global nuclear sales networks.
"It has to be clear to countries that isolation is all that you get from acquiring a nuclear weapon," she said.
In the end, conferees criticized, without naming them, the United States for ignoring its commitments, and other nations for failing to grapple with the Iran and North Korea problems. The Canadian representative, Paul Meyer, said, "We have let the pursuit of short-term, parochial interest override the collective long-term interest in sustaining this treaty's authority and integrity."
In an interview from Vienna, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who had proposed new mechanisms for international control of nuclear material so nations could not secretly produce weapons-grade fuel, said "absolutely nothing" had come out of the meeting.
"We are ending after a month of rancor - when everyone agreed that the system is ailing but not busted - and the same issues continue to stare us in the eyes," he said.
For most of the four weeks, non-nuclear states insisted that the United States and other nuclear powers focus on radically reducing their armaments, reminding them of commitments made five years ago by the Clinton administration.
The United States insisted that conditions had changed radically since then. A history of milestones in countering proliferation published by the American delegation omitted references to commitments the Bush administration has rejected and tried to focus the conference on how to deal with problems like North Korea, which abandoned the treaty two years ago and has declared that it has a small nuclear arsenal.
Administration officials said in interviews that they had given up hope several weeks ago that the meeting would accomplish anything, and they defended their decision not to send Secretary Rice to press Mr. Bush's agenda. Instead, the American representative, Jackie W. Sanders, said the United States wanted to continue the discussion "in other fora," without describing when or where.
Ms. Rice plans to speak Tuesday about one of the administration's favored approaches to controlling trade in arms: Its Proliferation Security Initiative, an effort to organize dozens of nations into a loose dragnet that would stop ships, train and airplanes believed to be carrying nuclear-related goods. Its most famous success came in 2003, when a Libya-bound freighter, the BBC China, was forced into port in Taranto, Italy, to disgorge equipment to enrich uranium. Libya renounced its nuclear arms program soon after.
But that effort does not fully address how to deal with countries that are permitted under the treaty to make nuclear material for civilian energy purposes, and then run secret weapons programs.
The treaty's signers cannot agree "on the best ways to achieve the purposes and objectives of the treaty," Mr. Duarte said. The only nations not parties to the treaty are Israel, India and Pakistan, which have nuclear weapons, and North Korea.
After haggling for several weeks over the agenda, a number of nations, led by Iran and Egypt, demanded that any change in the system begin with assurances that the United States and other nuclear nations would never attack a non-nuclear nation. They also demanded that Washington ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the Bush administration has said would weaken the United States. It has declared the treaty dead, and it has never been taken up by the Senate.
Groups that have lobbied for greater control over nuclear materials said they were disappointed but not surprised.
"The NPT Conference was a missed opportunity to strengthen the foundation for global cooperation to reduce nuclear threats," said Sam Nunn, the former senator, who has championed efforts to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. "We can't accept this as the last word. The U.S. must take a post-conference leadership role in bringing the international community together on this critical agenda."
American officials spent much of their time arguing that reductions in their nuclear stockpile, under an agreement in 2002 with Russia, proved they was complying with the treaty's requirement that nuclear states move toward disarmament.
That argument convinced few, and the Canadian representative, Mr. Meyer, apparently referring to the Bush administration, said, "If government simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never be able to build an edifice of international cooperation."
Before the meeting, administration officials said President Bush wanted to move the discussion to smaller groups where nations like Iran could not block a consensus. The officials, who did not want to be identified because the negotiating stance was in flux, named the Group of 8 industrial nations and the obscure Nuclear Suppliers Group.
With informal accords, the suppliers group controls the flow of nuclear-related technology to nations seeking to build nuclear infrastructures. By operating through that organization, Mr. Bush seems to hope to impose new rules without having to renegotiate the treaty.
Daniel B. Schneider contributed reporting to this article from
the United Nations.