Annan sketches out nuclear disaster
UNITED NATIONS: The voice was soft, calm, familiar. But the scenario Kofi Annan sketched out was chilling.
A nuclear bomb goes off in a great city. Chaos ensues, and a frightened world asks, “Was this an act of terrorism? Was it an act of aggression by a state? Was it an accident?” Tens or hundreds of thousands would be dead, the UN chief said, and questions, implications and dread would consume world leaders. Treaties might collapse, trade and economies totter, human rights and freedoms come under threat. And statesmen would ask: “How did it come to this?”
It was Monday’s arresting opening to a month-long conference reviewing the workings of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, at a moment of rising nuclear tensions in the world, on a day when speakers called for concessions from many sides, Iran, North Korea, America, Russia, to move toward a world free of the nuclear threat.
“Ultimately, the only way to guarantee that they will never be used is for our world to be free of such weapons,” Annan said, and he then urged the United States and Russia to slash their nuclear arsenals irreversibly to just hundreds of warheads.
But US delegation chief Stephen G Rademacher made clear the concessions Washington was most interested in would come from Iran, accused by the Americans of using the cover of a nuclear-power program to plan the building of weapons.
“The treaty is facing the most serious challenge in its history,” the assistant secretary of state told delegates from more than 180 nations. “We must confront this challenge.”
Because of such differing priorities, treaty members were unable to agree on a complete agenda before the sessions began. Organisers hope to have agreement before the nuts-and-bolts work of committees begins next week.
Under the 35-year-old Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), states without nuclear arms pledge not to pursue them, in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear powers, the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China, to move toward nuclear disarmament. Three other nuclear states, Israel, India and Pakistan, remain outside the treaty.
The NPT is reviewed every five years at conferences whose consensus positions give valuable political support to non-proliferation initiatives. At the 2000 meeting, the nuclear powers committed to “13 practical steps” toward disarmament, but critics complain the Bush administration, by rejecting the nuclear test-ban treaty for example, has come up short. “We are greatly disappointed” by “unsatisfactory progress” toward disarmament by the big powers, said New Zealand’s Marian Hobbs, speaking for a coalition of disarmament-minded states.
Malaysia’s foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, representing the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement, complained that “the nuclear weapons states continue to believe in the relevance of nuclear weapons,” contrary to the spirit of the NPT. The Iran question hinges on the NPT’s Article IV, which guarantees nonweapons states the right to peaceful nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment equipment to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. ap