Ban outlines UN role in fight to keep nuclear materials from terrorists

13 April 2010

Building on United States President Barack Obama’s nuclear security summit in Washington, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today proposed a series of high-level conferences to flesh out efforts to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear materials.

Although the landmark International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism was adopted by the General Assembly five years ago to the day, only 65 countries – barely a third of UN Member States – have ratified it, he told the 47 world leaders gathered at the Washington summit.

“This is far from satisfactory,” he stressed. “As depository for the Convention, I am willing to convene a conference at an appropriate time in consultation with the parties to review its implementation and to facilitate further ratifications.”

Warning that even one terrorist attack could inflict mass casualties “and change our world forever… a prospect [that] should compel all of us to strengthen our common defences,” Mr. Ban underscored the need for accurate accounting and transparency of all stockpiles of fissile materials and for a reliable international instrument to keep their production in check.

“Without a verifiable and legally binding fissile material treaty, other efforts will amount to only half-measures,” he said, noting that he has repeatedly urged the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD) to immediately start negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

“To spur this process along, I will consider convening a meeting of CD at the ministerial level during this year’s General Assembly session [in New York] in September,” he added.

Mr. Ban also proposed strengthening the role of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), noting that today’s summit communiqué called for enhanced engagement with the nuclear industry, and urged that the Biotechnology Initiative he launched last year to prevent negligent or deliberate misuse of dangerous pathogens while nurturing biotechnology’s potential benefits be replicated in the nuclear area.

“Such an initiative could help us build a framework that balances nuclear technology with risk-management strategies,” he declared. “I stand ready to help.

He called for the Security Council to meet annually at ministerial level to follow up on its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, and reiterated his appeal to Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to fully comply with Council resolutions restricting their nuclear programmes.

Highlighting the need to achieve tandem progress on both nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, he cited his own visit last week to a former Soviet atomic testing site in Kazakhstan. “While there is much the world can do to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons, disarmament offers the greatest possible guarantee,” he said.

“One week ago today, I visited the former nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. It was a sobering experience: poisoned land, one-and-a-half million people still suffering the terrible after-effects. I commend President [Nursultan] Nazarbayev's leadership in closing the site and freeing Kazakhstan from nuclear weapons.”

Finally he urged all states that have not yet ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty to do so promptly, hailed last week’s US-Russian nuclear weapons reduction treaty as “a genuine milestone,” and called on all parties to next month’s five-yearly review conference of the 40-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to strengthen it.

“Attendance at the highest possible level would send a strong message to the world’s people that we are fully committed to the treaty and serious in moving towards a nuclear-weapon-free world,” he said. “We cannot fail.”


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