Los Angeles Times: At a key U.N. disarmament conference Monday, the U.S. lashed out at Iran and North Korea for their purported pursuit of atomic weapons and demanded that Iran dismantle its uranium enrichment facilities. But Iran said that it had an “inalienable right” to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and that it might restart its once-secret nuclear energy program. The entrenched conflicts may set the conference up for failure, diplomats said. Los Angeles Times
Conflict over the right to technology puts a conference to review the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in jeopardy.
By Maggie Farley, Times Staff Writer
UNITED NATIONS At a key U.N. disarmament conference Monday, the U.S. lashed out at Iran and North Korea for their purported pursuit of atomic weapons and demanded that Iran dismantle its uranium enrichment facilities.
But Iran said that it had an “inalienable right” to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and that it might restart its once-secret nuclear energy program. The entrenched conflicts may set the conference up for failure, diplomats said.
At the opening of a monthlong review of the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, U.S. negotiator Stephen Rademaker said the world must make sure that countries such as North Korea and Iran cannot exploit loopholes in the treaty to divert civilian energy programs into illegal weapons facilities.
“Some countries, such as Iran, are seeking these facilities, either secretly or with explanations that cannot withstand scrutiny. We dare not look the other way,” he said.
Iran’s announcement Saturday that it was likely to resume its activities related to uranium enrichment, and North Korea’s reported weekend test launch of a missile over the Sea of Japan, have added to the tensions surrounding this year’s conference.
Rademaker reiterated seven steps President Bush had proposed last year to stop the spread of nuclear weapons through underground networks, including efforts to intercept the shipment of illegal weapons materials.
The United States also urged that states like Iran that don’t comply with the treaty be denied the technology guaranteed under it. Countries such as North Korea that withdrew from the treaty should be sanctioned, Rademaker said.
He also described efforts by the U.S. to reduce its own nuclear arsenal under the treaty, after attacks from developing countries that the nuclear powers especially the U.S. and Russia had not done enough to eliminate weapons stockpiles.
The 35-year old treaty requires more than 180 states to renounce nuclear ambitions and for the five major nuclear powers the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain to eventually eliminate their nuclear arms. Under the 2002 Moscow Treaty, the U.S. and Russia are to reduce their warheads by two-thirds by 2012. India, Pakistan and probably Israel also have nuclear capability, but have not signed the treaty.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that the treaty was flawed and needed strengthening. He urged the U.S. and Russia to cut back their weapons arsenals and work toward “a world free of nuclear weapons.” He supported Iran’s right to have access to nuclear fuel, but said Tehran “must not insist” on developing sensitive technology at home.
The chief of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, asked all nations to stop processing nuclear material until new international controls could be negotiated. He has proposed putting nuclear fuel production under the control of the U.N. or another multilateral body, a suggestion the United States is cool to but is considering.
The review conference occurs every five years to assess progress and set new goals under the treaty, and the final accord is not legally binding. But new threats by underground nuclear networks and slow motion by the nuclear powers on old commitments have caused problems for this year’s stock-taking.
The Bush administration would like to focus on the problems posed by North Korea and Iran, whereas other countries want to push the nuclear powers to reduce their stockpiles more quickly.
The divergence of priorities means that the conference began Monday without an agreed-upon agenda, and diplomats worried that squabbling over procedure among the attending countries would distract from solving crucial issues.
“The conference is really starting on the wrong foot, so the odds of it failing are fairly high,” said Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, who chaired the 2000 review conference.
Five years ago, the conference was also expected to fail, as it came after India and Pakistan had conducted nuclear tests and the United States rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But it renewed a consensus to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and technology.