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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference Ends Without An Agreement

May 27, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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TERENCE SMITH: And with me is Louis Charbonneau, senior correspondent for Reuters. He’s been covering the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that has been going on this month at the United Nations. Welcome to the broadcast.

One hundred eighty-eight nations sit down and talk for a month, nearly a month, and the conference ends today without even a final statement? What happened?

LOUIS CHARBONNEAU: Well, that’s what we’re trying to figure out right now. There’s quite a bit of finger pointing. You have the United States privately suggesting that Iran and Egypt are the reasons that there was no substantive conclusion that came out of this conference.

Other countries, developing nations, are accusing the United States, saying that it’s trying to back out of its previous commitments to disarm. And so we’ve got this finger pointing going on and it looks like they’re — all sides are — have some credence to their argument.

TERENCE SMITH: And was this a surprise, that there was not even enough minimal agreement to produce a statement of some kind at the end?

LOUIS CHARBONNEAU: No. This was not a surprise. In fact, there was one very good arms control expert who’s based in London. I spoke to him several months before the conference began and he told me he wasn’t even going to go to it. And I asked why and he said “nothing’s going to happen.” And I said, “Well, what do you predict will take place there?” And he said “Sound and fury signifying nothing.”

TERENCE SMITH: What was it that U.S. officials say Iran and Egypt did to obstruct the conference?

LOUIS CHARBONNEAU: Well, now, it’s not just U.S. officials. Other people have confirmed that this is, in fact, the case. Egypt was trying to focus attention on Israel, which has never admitted or denied that it has nuclear weapons but it’s generally assumed to have around 200 warheads.

So Egypt was trying to get — turn up the heat on Israel to have the conference urge Israel to sign the nonproliferation treaty, the NPT, and to allow international inspections by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. This was not a — this was not something that the United States or a number of other countries that are allies of Israel were going to permit.

So Egypt — it played procedural games to prevent, to delay the acceptance of an agenda first. This went on for two and a half weeks, and then once an agenda was finally agreed upon, they had to divvy up the work among the committees. And then we came to today and it was really too late to push for any sort of final agreement. So that’s what Egypt did.

Now, Iran wanted to make sure that there was no suggestion in any final statement from the conference that it has violated the NPT and that it’s a proliferation risk, as the United States says. The U.S. accuses Iran, as we have seen before in the segment ahead of our discussion, the U.S. accuses Iran of using its civilian nuclear power program as a front to build weapons. Iran denies this.

And the IAEA says it doesn’t have evidence to prove the U.S., right but it’s also not convinced that Iran has told the truth about everything. So Iran made sure that there was no mention of this in any final statement coming out of the conference.

TERENCE SMITH: What did the United States want going into this conference? What did it want to achieve and what results did it get?

LOUIS CHARBONNEAU: Well, the United States wanted to highlight the threat that we’re facing in the nuclear arena. That after 9/11– although they never mentioned 9/11, but it was this kind of unmentioned — this ghost hovering over the conference, what they wanted everyone to see is that there’s a new risk out there that terrorists could get a hold of nuclear weapons and that if our guard is down they could get a hold of the enriched uranium or plutonium to use in a weapon. They could get warhead designs.

Maybe they could get a hold of an actual weapon from a country like North Korea, and also that there are countries out there that — the United States says Iran is one and they think there are probably others out there who would like to get the bomb, and so they want to make sure that everyone is vigilant and that they can crack down on the weak links in the chain around the world in the nuclear supply chain. That’s what they wanted to focus things on.

But other countries, developing countries were turning around and saying, we want to talk about disarmament. We want to talk about the pledge that the United States and the other four nuclear weapons states: Russia, China, France, and Britain, the promises they made in 2000 and 1995 — the last two review conferences. They agreed on 13 steps to disarmament and now the United States didn’t want any mention of those previous commitments in any text that came out of this conference. They don’t want to associate themselves with those previous commitments, which has led to accusations that the U.S. has — is basically trying — the Bush administration is trying to walk away from commitments made by previous administrations and people — a number of people don’t like that.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, Louis Charbonneau, thank you very much for bringing us up to date.

LOUIS CHARBONNEAU: Thank you.