UNITED NATIONS – Diplomats charged with halting the spread of nuclear weapons were to reopen negotiations here Tuesday after a three-day break taken after a week of trying but ultimately failing to agree on an agenda for their talks.
Delegates at the month-long Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference came close to adopting an agenda last Wednesday but fell out as Western nations led by the United States and developing countries assembled under the umbrella of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) found themselves locked in arguments over language used in the draft agenda.
The problem came to a head last Friday when Egypt, traditionally a major player at NPT meetings, rejected the draft agenda, saying the text allowed certain nations to shrug off their responsibilities as signatories to the NPT.
Observers said Washington had sought endorsement for text that contained no reference to commitments already agreed at the last NPT review conference in 2000. The NAM vigorously opposed this.
"Many states are angry that U.S. power and intransigence have succeeded in deleting mention of the 2000 agreements," said Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the British-based Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.
"They suspect that most, if not all, the other nuclear powers are happy that this has occurred," she added.
During the course of last week’s talks here, officials from the United States and other nuclear powers reaffirmed their governments’ commitment to nuclear nonproliferation but offered no substantive details of plans to disarm.
"The NPT is a critical tool in the global struggle against proliferation," U.S. envoy Stephen Rademaker told delegates. "We must remain mindful that the treaty will not continue to advance our security in the future if we do not successfully confront the current proliferation challenges."
Russia hailed the NPT as "one of the most important pillars of international security and stability," while China said the treaty was "a successful model in solving security concerns through multilateral approaches."
Britain and France, taking their lead from a European Union statement, called the NPT "an irreplaceably, legally binding instrument for maintaining and reinforcing international peace, security, and stability."
In contrast to such statements, a vast majority of non-nuclear nations voiced concern over what they saw as the nuclear nations’ unwillingness to take significant steps to dismantle their nuclear arsenals.
"The indefinite extension of the NPT does not imply the indefinite possession by the nuclear weapons states of the nuclear weapons arsenals," the Malaysian government said in a statement on behalf of the 115-member NAM.
"If we want to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we must also be prepared to accept that elimination of nuclear weapons is the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons," it added.
The statement resonated with outside nuclear experts.
"It was not simply about significant reduction of nuclear weapons," said Jonathan Granoff of the U.S.-based Global Security Initiative. "It relates to disarmament by the nuclear weapons states."
Although the Cold War ended in 1991, the United States and Russia continue to possess thousands of nuclear weapons. Currently, the five declared nuclear states keep more than 36,000 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a Sweden-based think tank.
In addition to the declared nuclear powers, India, Pakistan, and Israel also have stockpiled nuclear weapons and have refused to sign the NPT despite international pressure.
While many Western nations, especially the United States, targeted Iran and North Korea for their suspected aims to build nuclear weapons, the NAM statement did not mention those nations by name and said it would be guided by decisions taken at the 2000 NPT review conference.
One of the most significant agreements reached at the 2000 conference called for the nuclear states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals. That conference also adopted a set of 13 "practical disarmament measures."
Those steps include early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiations on an "internationally and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons."
Despite taking a tough stance on nuclear nonproliferation, the United States continues to remain noncommittal on CTBT, even though Russia has ratified it, as have Britain and France.
Washington continues to abide by its unilateral moratorium on testing nuclear weapons but refuses to endorse calls to negotiate a verifiable treaty on a fissile material cut off.
"The U.S. is blocking it," said John Burroughs, director of the New York-based Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy. "The Bush administration does not want inspection within the United States. But then how can it expect progress in other parts of the world?"
Frustrated by the controversy generated by the text of the agenda, last Friday conference president Sergio Duarte of Brazil said he regretted that the delegates had failed to reach consensus.
"I appeal again to the spirit of understanding and compromise of all delegations to understand that we have to start substantive work," he said. "Public opinion awaits us to start dealing with the substantive question at hand."
It remained to be seen whether delegates how delegates would respond as they began their second week of talks Tuesday.