UNITED NATIONS – Delegates hailed the success of a two-week meeting to prepare for a major conference next year to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, even though it ended Friday without specific recommendations on disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
Zimbabwe's U.N. Ambassador Boniface Chidyausiku, who chaired the preparatory meeting, said the session achieved what it set out to do: Delegates agreed on an agenda, a chairman and procedures for the review conference.
By contrast, the last review conference in 2005 was unable to agree on an agenda until nearly three weeks after it started — a major factor in the failure of the meeting.
Chidyausiku said delegates had a foundation for discussions. "We're almost there, but we didn't want to spoil the atmosphere by going into acrimonious little differences between state parties," he said.
He said recommendations to next year's conference, which will take place from May 3-28, "could have been a bonus."
But Chidyausiku said there wasn't enough time to reach agreement on proposals that balanced the three pillars of the NPT — disarmament by the nuclear powers, preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and ensuring the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
"The differences — they were not major," he said. "With time, we could have done it."
Chidyausiku credited President Obama's for reversing former President George W. Bush's policy and pledging last month to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. He also lauded a new U.S.-Russian cooperation and a new American willingness to engage the international community.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty requires signatory nations not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — to move toward nuclear disarmament. The nonweapons states are guaranteed access to peaceful nuclear technology to produce nuclear power.
The nuclear powers issued a joint statement Friday welcoming "the progress and substantive discussion" at the preparatory meetings and reaffirming their collective support for the NPT.
The nuclear powers welcomed the U.S.-Russian agreement to further reduce their nuclear stockpiles and fresh efforts to promote the entry into force of the nuclear test ban treaty and to negotiate a new treaty that would end production of fissile material used to produce nuclear weapons, including uranium and plutonium.
They also agreed that action is needed to reinforce the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear safeguard system, to ensure full compliance by all states and to prevent users of nuclear energy from building nuclear weapons.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the U.S. now has the next year "to really focus on some of the issues that president Obama has put forward."
The U.S. wants to ensure that the review conference strengthens IAEA inspections, deals with the issue of compliance when countries like Iran are in violation of their commitments, makes it more difficult for countries like North Korea to withdraw from the NPT, and looks at ways to prevent proliferation while supplying fissile material for peaceful nuclear energy, the official said.
"It was truly successful," Eric Danon, France's ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said of the two-week meeting. "We feel it was the best possible outcome to prepare for 2010."
Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the London-based Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, said "people shouldn't get depressed that these recommendations couldn't be agreed now, because it was really worthwhile to have the initial debate that highlighted where the problems lie."