By EDITH M. LEDERERNuclear powers agree to eliminate arsenals
UNITED NATIONS (May 20, 2000) - The five nuclear powers on the United Nations Security Council agreed Saturday to eliminate their nuclear arsenals as part of 187 countries' new disarmament agenda.
The agreement by the signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was reached after all-night deliberations and intense pressure on Iraq and the United States to settle a dispute over Baghdad's compliance with U.N. sanctions.
The conference to review the global treaty - aimed at controlling and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons - required a consensus, and the U.S.-Iraq dispute threatened to sabotage approval of a final document.
Signaling the importance Washington placed on the issue of Iraq's compliance with nuclear agreements, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn, who is in charge of nonproliferation, flew to New York to take part in the final talks.
Hours after his arrival, Canadian Ambassador Chris Westdal, who had worked through the night, announced an agreement to applauding delegates, saying "the last piece in our puzzle is complete."
Delegates to the conference said the new nuclear agenda was significant because it represented the first time in 15 years that the 187 nuclear and non-nuclear states were able to reach a consensus.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it "marks a significant step forward in humanity's pursuit of a more peaceful world - a world free of nuclear dangers, a world with strengthened global norms for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament."
On Thursday, the five nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - agreed to "an unequivocal undertaking" to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.
Even though the agreement gave no timetable, and delegates said it would take many years to achieve a nuclear-free world, it marked the first public statement by the major nuclear powers of their obligation to disarm.
"What has always been implicit has now become explicit," said Mexico's disarmament ambassador in Geneva, Antonio de Icaza.
The NPT, which came into force in 1970, has only four holdouts - India and Pakistan which conducted rival nuclear tests in 1998, Israel which is believed to have nuclear weapons, and Cuba.
Delegates repeatedly stressed the importance of getting those nations to sign - a step many concede is crucial to the cause of disarmament.
The final document reaffirmed "the importance of Israel's accession to the NPT" and urged India and Pakistan, despite their nuclear tests, to become parties to the treaty "as non-nuclear weapon states."
The nuclear haves and have-nots also agreed on other important steps: a moratorium on nuclear weapons tests pending activation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, further reductions of tactical nuclear weapons, increased transparency by the nuclear powers on reporting information about their nuclear arsenals and making weapons safer by taking them off "hair-trigger" alert.
They also agreed to permanently and irreversibly remove plutonium and uranium from nuclear warheads, and to negotiate within the next five years a treaty banning the production of weapons-grade nuclear material.
The U.S.-Iraq dispute centered on Iraq's compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, which placed Iraq under sanctions until its facilities for producing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons had been shut down. The United States maintains that Iraq has not adequately accounted for its weapons programs.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Saeed Hasan initially said Baghdad would accept an account of the International Atomic Energy Agency's January inspection of its nuclear reactors under the NPT treaty - but was vehemently opposed to U.S. demands for a statement that the IAEA inspection was no substitute for its Security Council obligations.
Under the compromise language, the conference noted an April 24 statement by the IAEA director-general that since Iraq has suspended weapons inspections since December 1998 "the agency has not been in a position to provide any assurance of Iraq's compliance with its obligations under U.N. Security Council Resolution 687."
At the final plenary session of the conference, Hasan entered a reservation on the compromise, reiterating there was "no reason" to include Iraq or the Security Council resolution in the document and accusing the United States of trying to divert the conference from the real danger in the Middle East - "by that we mean the nuclear weapons of Israel."