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At Seoul summit, Ban outlines steps to defuse global nuclear threat

World leaders at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit.
UN Photo/E. Debebe
World leaders at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit.

At Seoul summit, Ban outlines steps to defuse global nuclear threat

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today outlined five areas that deserve greater attention as the world community strives to ensure nuclear security, from curbing terrorism financing to stricter control over fissile materials.

“The prospect of nuclear terrorism threatens international security. We are united in our resolve to defuse this threat,” he said in his remarks at the plenary session of the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, a two-day event hosted by the Republic of Korea.

Mr. Ban highlighted the need to consolidate the global nuclear security architecture through universal adherence to international instruments and a rigorous review mechanism.

Stating that the United Nations is the universal forum for preventing terrorists from using or acquiring nuclear weapons, he said he will convene a high-level event this fall to help strengthen the legal framework on preventing nuclear terrorism. It is also important to curb terrorism financing, he added, warmly welcoming the participation of Interpol at the summit, given the significance of customs and law enforcement.

Asserting more stringent control over fissile materials is another crucial area that deserves greater attention, the Secretary-General told world leaders.

“There has been some progress, but let us be clear: the world needs a verifiable and legally binding fissile material cut-off treaty,” Mr. Ban said.

He added that the current stalemate in the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) is “unacceptable,” and called on members of the world’s sole multilateral disarmament negotiating forum to immediately commence negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

“The relevance of the CD is at stake,” Mr. Ban said. “If the stalemate is not resolved during the 2012 CD session, the international community must explore alternative avenues.”

Established in 1979 and with a current membership of 65 countries, the CD primarily focuses on cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament, prevention of nuclear war, and prevention of an arms race in outer space, among other things – it has been plagued in recent years by an inability to overcome differences among its members and start its substantive work towards advancing disarmament goals.

The UN’s top official highlighted the need to strengthen the nexus between nuclear security and nuclear safety, and to take forward the Nuclear Security Summit process.

“I welcome this Summit’s reaffirmation of our shared goals of nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and I call for the full implementation of commitments undertaken,” Mr. Ban said.

He also stressed the need to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force, stating that “the best way to eliminate the nuclear threat anywhere is by eliminating nuclear weapons everywhere.”

Addressing delegates at a working lunch, the Secretary-General recalled his visits last year to the site of the nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima, Japan, and to Chernobyl, in Ukraine. “Those tragedies sent a clear and urgent message: A nuclear accident can have consequences similar to a nuclear attack,” Mr. Ban said.

He set out five areas for collective action: bold steps to bridge the trust gap; emergency response, disaster risk reduction and resilience building; boosting the UN’s role; a stronger partnership with the nuclear industry and civil society; and progress on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

In his remarks to the Summit’s plenary session, the UN chief also voiced his concern at the continued non-compliance of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran with relevant Security Council resolutions concerning their nuclear programmes.

“I urge the DPRK and Iran to do their utmost to address the international community’s concerns in a peaceful manner and to refrain from any destabilizing acts,” said Mr. Ban.

He reiterated that the DPRK’s announcement to launch a so-called “application satellite” next month runs counter to resolution 1874 of 2009, which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology,” and urged Pyongyang to reconsider.

The Secretary-General also discussed the issue of nuclear safety and security in a meeting with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych. He also met separately with Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey and Brazil’s Vice-President Michael Temer, with whom he discussed, among other issues, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, that will be held in Rio de Janeiro in June.