Reuters: Haunted by the specters of Iran and North Korea and divided along rich and poor lines, members of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gather on Monday to mull ways of preventing the pact from unraveling. By Mark Heinrich and Karin Strohecker
VIENNA (Reuters) – Haunted by the specters of Iran and North Korea and divided along rich and poor lines, members of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gather on Monday to mull ways of preventing the pact from unraveling.
With memories strong of deadlock at the last NPT Review Conference in 2005, 188 nations will hold a Preparatory Committee session in Vienna to May 11 to help pave the way to the next full conference in 2010.
The NPT binds members without nuclear bombs not to acquire them via diversions of peaceful nuclear energy know-how. It also commits the original five nuclear weapons powers from the post-World War Two era to phase out their arsenals.
But North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006 after bolting the NPT and Iran’s bid to enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. resolutions demanding that it stop due to fears of a covert quest for bombs have put the treaty under unprecedented strain, analysts say.
It has also long ailed from the perception of nuclear “have nots” that nuclear “haves” have blocked access to atomic energy for development, while stalling on disarmament obligations.
“As a consequence of how the Bush administration responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11… nuclear weapons are being revalued as instruments of political power projection and military coercion,” said Rebecca Johnson, head of the Acronym Institute, which tracks the NPT’s performance.
“This is illustrated by the benefits conferred on India, Pakistan and even North Korea when they ‘went nuclear’. No wonder Iran calculated that enriching uranium would be a win-win strategy,” she wrote in a preview of the meeting.
India and Pakistan, which are not members of the NPT, tested nuclear bombs in 1998. Both enjoy a close relationship with the United States. North Korea has been offered financial incentives to freeze its nuclear program.
POLITICAL TENSIONS DOG NPT
The NPT “PrepCom”, the first of three annual sessions before the next review conference, will make no decisions on substance but will relaunch debate about how to shore up the treaty.
Differences over priorities remain as wide as at the 2005 conference, which failed to yield a final consensus statement about what to do about challenges to the 37-year-old NPT.
Industrialized, nuclear powers were expected to dwell anew on efforts to stop the spread of fuel enrichment technology.
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing nations will again push developed counterparts to honor disarmament goals, eclipsed by a U.S.-led “war on terror”, and seek a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
NAM sees discrimination in Western-engineered U.N. sanctions on Iran meant to make it halt nuclear work Tehran insists is for peaceful energy, while Israel, which never joined the NPT, faces no pressure to dismantle an undeclared nuclear arsenal.
“Given the inauspicious international developments and the growing detritus of arms control deals cast aside, expectations for a successful outcome of the PrepCom are already being lowered,” said a Vienna diplomat who helped prepare the meeting.
But Yukiya Amano, Japan’s envoy to the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, said the NPT was vital to international security and it would be wrong to write it off. “It is not Mission Impossible,” he told Reuters.
North Korea has agreed to freeze its atom bomb program. And the European Union’s top diplomat has hinted at new possibilities to negotiate a way out of the Iran crisis based on a reciprocal suspension of uranium enrichment and sanctions.