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Nuke-free world urged
By Fu Jing in New York and Zhang Haizhou in Beijing (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-25 07:09

The world's major nuclear powers should make "drastic and substantive" cuts to their arsenals and strive to make the planet nuclear-free, President Hu Jintao told national leaders in New York yesterday.

Nuke-free world urged
 President Hu Jintao attends the annual luncheon during the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. [Agencies]Nuke-free world urged

Addressing the UN Security Council summit on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, Hu said China would unswervingly follow a purely defensive nuclear strategy.

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"To realize a safer world for all, we must first and foremost remove the threat of nuclear war," Hu said before arriving in Pittsburgh ahead of the G20 summit.

Saying Beijing has always wanted complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons, Hu also said: "all countries should join the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) and make real efforts to uphold and enhance its authority and effectiveness."

The NPT was launched on July 1, 1968. Only four nuclear countries are not parties to the treaty: India, Israel, Pakistan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

It was the third consecutive day Hu had made a major speech before world leaders, but the first time he had addressed such a high-level summit on disarmament and nonproliferation.

Experts said his speech showed the way forward, but they pointed out that more work lies ahead.

At the summit chaired by US President Barack Obama, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a US-drafted resolution, calling for stepped up efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. It was the fifth time the Security Council had met at the head-of-state level since it was established in 1946.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday also called for nuclear disarmament, calling it "the only sane path to a safer world".

"Nothing would work better in eliminating the risk of use than eliminating the weapons themselves," he said at the summit.

Hu made five proposals in his speech, saying all countries with nuclear weapons should publicly commit to not wanting to possess them in the long term.

"We should maintain a stable and balanced global strategy and vigorously advance nuclear disarmament and the countries owning the biggest stockpiles of nuclear weapons should continuously take the lead in making drastic and substantive cuts," Hu said.

From a high of 70,000 nuclear weapons in 1986, there are today about 7,500 active warheads and about 23,300 total warheads in the world, according to the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

The US has around 9,400 warheads, with at least 2,600 active, according to the FAS. Russia has about 13,000, of which 4,840 are active.

Hu said China will consistently support nonproliferation and disarmament treaties.

"We have adhered to the policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstance, and made the unequivocal commitment that we will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones," said Hu.

The Chinese president said the function of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should be strengthened.

And Hu said developed countries should actively help developing nations peacefully exploit nuclear energy.

Zhai Dequan, deputy director of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the IAEA needs more power so it can ensure countries without nuclear weapons are allowed to use nuclear energy peacefully.

"(The international community) should also make the agency more representative, have (nuclear) scientists from all over the world," Zhai said.

"Security, peaceful development and cooperation were the main themes of President Hu's speech," Zhai said. "It shows the way forward for the world's arms control and disarmament efforts."

At yesterday's summit, Obama told the Security Council the coming year will be important.

"The next 12 months will be absolutely critical in determining whether this resolution and our overall efforts to stop the spread and use of nuclear weapons are successful," Obama told the council.

He said on Wednesday that the threat of proliferation was growing in scope and complexity. A failure to act would invite a nuclear arms race in every region.

In July, the US and Russia announced they would pursue reductions in strategic warheads and launchers. At the Conference on Disarmament, they agreed to a plan for negotiating an end to the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, and this week, US Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, will become the first senior American representative to participate in the annual Members Conference of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

"The US will stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek a world without them," said Obama.

Shelton Williams, from the Washington-based Osgood Center for International Studies, said Obama's goal was "realistic", "but we have to remember the timeframe and the conditions Obama mentioned".

Williams pointed out that Obama doubts a "nuclear-free" world will be attained in his lifetime and said it can only be attained if nations agree to universal and stringent safeguards, with sanctions against violators.

Peng Kuang and Xinhua contributed to the story