The world is looking to the more than 100 nations gathered at United Nations Headquarters today for a major nuclear non-proliferation conference to take decisive action to build a safer world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the event’s start.
“We have a choice: to leave a legacy of fear and inaction… or to act with vision, courage and leadership,” he told the five-yearly review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which kicked off today in New York.
“We all know it is possible,” the Secretary-General said of disarmament and non-proliferation, which have been among his top priorities since taking office in 2007.
He characterized the NPT, the cornerstone of the world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime, as one of the most important global treaties ever reached.
With the nuclear threat still real, “we need this regime as much as ever,” Mr. Ban underscored.
The last NPT review conference in 2005 was a failure, he said, having wrapped up without any substantive agreement having been reached. “This time, we can – and must – do better.”
The Secretary-General today laid out five benchmarks for success in pushing the agenda forward.
First, he said, “real gains” must be made towards disarmament, calling on nuclear-weapons States to translate their commitment to eliminating the arms into action.
Another of his benchmarks is taking steps to achieve the NPT’s universality. India, Pakistan and Israel are not parties to the pact, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) withdrew in 2003.
Mr. Ban highlighted the need to ensure that the right to use nuclear energy peacefully does not have unintended consequences. “It should be unacceptable for countries to the treaty as cover to develop nuclear weapons, only to withdraw afterwards.”
Thirdly, he underscored the importance of strengthening the rule of law, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Convention on Nuclear Terrorism.
Also crucial is making strides towards cementing a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, as well as other regional concerns.
Currently, there are five such zones: Latin America and the Caribbean; the South Pacific; South-East Asia; Central Asia; and Africa.
“They build confidence that can lead to progress in other areas,” the Secretary-General stressed, reiterating his support of the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.
His last benchmark, he said, is a strengthened NPT review process, which would benefit from enhanced national reporting and increased organizational support.
Mr. Ban pointed out that many countries have already shown great leadership by abolishing nuclear weapons, slashing their arsenals and setting up nuclear-weapons-free areas.
“I challenge you to go further still,” he said. “We need more examples of what can be achieved – not more excuses for why it is not possible.”
Also in attendance at today’s gathering is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, whose authorities hold that the country’s work in the nuclear field is for peaceful purposes, while some countries contend it is driven by military ambitions. The programme has been a matter of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that the country had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the NPT.
In his address today, the Secretary-General encouraged the Iranian leader to “engage constructively,” calling on the country to comply with Security Council resolution and cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
He also encouraged the country to accept an IAEA-backed proposal on fuel for a civilian nuclear research site in the capital, Tehran, in which Iranian low-enriched uranium would be shipped for further enrichment to Russia and then to France to be fabricated into fuel.
The other three parties to the talks – France, Russia and the United States – have all indicated their approval of the agreement, but Iran has yet to respond.
The Secretary-General said today that Iran’s acceptance of the proposal would help to boost confidence.
“Let me be clear: the onus is on Iran to clarify the doubts and concerns of its programme,” he said.
In response, Mr. Ahmadinejad told the conference that his country has accepted the fuel exchange deal, with country throwing “the ball in the court of those who should accept our proposal.”
The Iranian leader spoke out in his address against how “certain nuclear-weapon States widely exploit” the Security Council and the IAEA. “This unjust practice, repeated over and over, has turned into a pattern.”
He voiced concern that to date, no non-nuclear-weapon State “has ever been able to exercise their inalienable and legal rights for peaceful use of nuclear energy without facing pressures and threats.”
Countries with nuclear weapons have equated nuclear arms with nuclear energy, which Mr. Ahmadinejad characterized as “one of the gravest injustices” committed by these nations.
“The nuclear bomb is a fire against humanity rather than a weapon for defence,” he stated. “The possession of nuclear bombs is not a source of pride; it is rather disgusting and shameful. And even more shameful is the threat to use or to use such weapons, which is not even comparable to any crime committed throughout the history.”
For his part, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, who also addressed today’s meeting, said that Iran’s lack of cooperation is preventing the agency from confirming that all nuclear material is not being diverted to a weapons programme.
He called on Iran to “clarify activities with a possible military dimension.”
Mr. Amano also noted that the IAEA has not been able to confirm the nature of nuclear activities in the DPRK, which ceased all cooperation with the agency last year, and has no made progress in resolving questions related to the nature of the Dair Alzour site – alleged by some to be the site of a nuclear reactor – which was destroyed by Israel.
The IAEA chief urged the 20 parties to the NPT which have yet to bring comprehensive safeguards agreements into force to take immediate steps to join the 98 countries which have done so.
He also drew attention to the importance of additional protocols, which are vital to the agency to “provide credible assurance not only that declared nuclear material is not being diverted from peaceful uses, but also that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in a State.”
Nuclear technologies, Mr. Amano noted, can also be used to meet people’s basic needs, with radiotherapy helping to treat cancer and nuclear technology being utilized to enhance global food security.
The current gathering is expected to wrap up on 28 May.