U.N. Nuke Treaty Conference Bogged Down

The monthlong U.N. conference to review the work of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search) remained bogged down in its seventh day on Tuesday in disputes over the agenda.

The impasse threatened to keep the more than 180 national delegations from dealing with major issues at a time of rising tensions over the nuclear programs of North Korea (search) and Iran (search), and of rising calls among those without nuclear arms for greater progress toward disarmament among those with the weapons.

Delegates in the backroom talks said the latest disputes involved proposals by Arab and other members of the 116-nation Nonaligned Movement that subsidiary bodies be established to deal with specific issues, including creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

An agreement on the agenda had seemed near late last week, but it stalled when the Egyptians objected and proposed a change in language to focus more on assessing how well the nuclear weapons powers have done in taking specific steps toward nuclear disarmament.

Under the 1970 pact, nations without nuclear weapons pledge not to pursue them in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear-weapons states — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — to negotiate toward getting rid of them.

At the last of these twice-a-decade review conferences, in 2000, the weapons states and nonweapons states agreed on "13 practical steps" toward disarmament. The nuclear "have-nots" now complain that the Bush administration, in particular, has acted contrary to those commitments, by rejecting the 1996 treaty that would ban all nuclear tests, for example.

In the lead-up to the conference, Washington succeeded in excluding any reference to the 2000 positions in the proposed 2005 agenda. The Americans want the conference to focus on what they allege, and Tehran denies, are Iran's plans to build nuclear arms in violation of the treaty, and on North Korea's withdrawal from the treaty and claim to have nuclear bombs.

If it adopts an agenda and begins work, the conference is expected to consider proposals for international controls over nuclear fuel production, such as the uranium-enrichment technology obtained by Iran that is capable of making both fuel for nuclear power plants and material for bombs.

Other proposals focus on the treaty's disarmament "pillar," such as again pushing for activation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (search) and for negotiation of a treaty ending production of bomb material everywhere.