U.S. under fire at nuclear arms control meeting
The United States is sending the wrong signal to signatories of the global pact against nuclear weapons by backing out of previous arms control pledges, arms experts and diplomats said on Wednesday.
The 188 parties to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty are near the end of a monthlong conference that participants said would almost certainly fail to agree on any steps to improve the pact aimed at halting the spread of nuclear arms.
"The chances are very slim," said Abdul Minty, head of South Africa's delegation, "There is a big divide ... The U.S. is developing new nuclear weapons and we want to know against whom."
Minty complimented U.S. officials for eventually permitting agenda items they would have preferred to ignore. But he said America's refusal to reaffirm its "unequivocal commitment" to disarmament was problematic for many treaty signatories.
Washington has been exploring the idea of developing smaller atomic weapons -- "mini nukes" or "bunker busters."
The U.N.-sponsored conference, which began on May 2 and ends on Friday, bogged down from the start in wrangling over the agenda and allocation of work among committees.
Nuclear activists and diplomats blamed the delays on a dispute between Iran and the United States over what Washington sees as Tehran's atomic weapons ambitions -- a charge Iran denies.
Jonathan Granoff, president of U.S.-based Global Security Institute, assailed the Bush administration for renouncing the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which Washington signed during the Clinton administration but had not ratified.
"Why should anyone expect that any commitments we make now would be treated any differently five years from now, if the commitment we made 10 years ago can be so readily dispensed with," Granoff said.
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Bush administration would never agree to a pact like the test ban treaty "that limits our options in a state of war."
Some analysts condemned this as irresponsible. "The principle that the U.S. is establishing is that governments can renege on the commitments of their predecessors in office," observed Joseph Cinincione, an arms expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The United States, Russia, China, France and Britain tried to agree on a joint statement that included language on Iran and North Korea, which says it already has nuclear weapons, U.S. and European diplomats said on Tuesday.
However, a senior diplomat involved in the conference said the five powers had so far failed to agree on a text. "It's very unlikely at this point," he said. "They've been unable to agree on disarmament and other issues."
Diplomats said there would probably be no consensus statement out of the conference, confirming it was the failure many participants had expected it would be.
But another diplomat said it was unfair to blame the United States, saying critics were missing the point of the conference. "This is not about disarmament, it's about stopping proliferation," the diplomat said.
U.S. and other officials have accused Iran and Egypt of using the non-aligned block of developing states as a vehicle to push anti-American and anti-Israel agendas.
Egypt pushed the conference to call on Israel, which is assumed to have some 200 nuclear warheads, to sign the nonproliferation treaty, which it has not done.