GENEVA – The United States on Thursday proposed that the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament negotiate a new treaty banning production of the nuclear material needed to make atomic bombs.
Stephen G. Rademaker, acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, told the body that developments in the nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran showed it was time for a rapid agreement on the treaty to ban production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, known as "fissile material."
"The treaty text that we are putting forward contains the essential provisions that would comprise a successful legally binding FMCT," or Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, Rademaker said.
"It bans ... the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices," he said.
Rademaker said the proposal has widespread support and would give the conference a positive role for the first time since it completed the ban on nuclear bomb testing 10 years ago.
"The only possible avenue for progress in this conference is to concentrate its efforts on the one topic on which we most likely shall be able to take action," he said.
But Hamid Eslamizad, a senior official at Iran's mission in Geneva, stressed that his country's uranium enrichment program was entirely peaceful.
Eslamizad said that U.S. criticism of Iran's nuclear activities was reminiscent of similar, incorrect allegations by Rademaker in an early 2003 appearance before the conference when he said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had been collaborating with Al Qaeda against the United States.
"A couple of months later it was the American troops attacking Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Later on it was the U.S. troops themselves who said they could not find any weapons of mass destruction or any real linkages between the previous Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda."
He suggested that Rademaker's remarks might be taken as "the omen of repetition of what the Americans did with Iraq."
In the International Atomic Energy Agency's investigation of Iran's nuclear program, he said, "I would like to recall that so far the agency has made it clear that there has not been any diversion of nuclear materials in Iran towards prohibited use."
Rademaker responded that Iran was merely repeating its usual defense that all nuclear material in the country has been accounted for by the IAEA.
"The question is, is there any undeclared nuclear material in Iran? And that's the whole issue," Rademaker told reporters.
The U.S. proposal is only 3 1/2-pages long, much shorter than what many treaties become. And it would go into force with only the approval of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Rademaker noted that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of the 1960s went into effect with the approval only of Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States and that other nations — including nuclear powers France and China — joined later.
In contrast, he told reporters, the nuclear test ban treaty approved by the conference in 1996 required ratification by more than 30 countries, and it remains inactive because a number of nations, including the United States, never ratified it.
Another step to get the treaty passed faster was the U.S. decision to leave out any verification measures. Rademaker said that could take years to negotiate and that U.S. officials thought it better just to sign the treaty and rely on countries to abide by it.