Tracking Number:  387442

Title:  "Conference on Future of Non-Proliferation Treaty Opens." Representatives from 178 nations have gathered in New York to begin a conference on the future of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). (950417)

Date:  19950417

CONFERENCE ON FUTURE OF NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY OPENS (NPT: Christopher calls pact one of "most important") (740) By Judy Aita USIA United Nations Correspondent United Nations -- Representatives from the 178 states who are parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) gathered in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations April 17 to open a month-long conference to review the treaty's operation and decide on the life of the landmark arms convention.

The NPT "is truly one of the most important treaties of all time," Secretary of State Christopher declared in welcoming the delegates as foreign minister of the host country. "Many of the NPT's achievements cannot be quantified -- the weapons not built, the nuclear material not diverted, and the wars not started."

Enumerating the NPT's achievements, Christopher said that "the NPT has kept the number of nuclear powers far lower than initially forecast. It has given the parties confidence in the nuclear intentions of other nations. It has reduced the risk of nuclear conflict. It has advanced nuclear disarmament. It has bolstered regional security. It has promoted the safe and peaceful use of nuclear energy. And it has undergirded the international community's efforts to halt the spread of all weapons of mass destruction."

"Simply put, the NPT has worked," he said. The opening formalities included election by acclamation of Ambassador J. Dhanapala of Sri Lanka as president of the conference and speeches by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Hans Blix, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"This is an historical moment," Boutros-Ghali said. "What happens here will help to define the character of international cooperation for the 21st century."

"This conference, by its outcome, can support a vision of international relations that extends beyond disarmament," the secretary general said. "Increasingly, states are working in harmony to make decisions of global importance on a vast range of issues from development to international security. By forging a joint strategy on non-proliferation, you can advance this crucial process," the secretary general told conference delegates.

The conference must address enhanced security assurances to non-nuclear weapon states through cooperative security arrangements, further nuclear disarmament, and concerns regarding access to uses of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, Boutros-Ghali added.

"This conference can mark the beginning of a new phase in arms limitation and disarmament, and a major stride toward a world free from nuclear weapons," he said. "It can pave the way to redirecting the vast sums of money now spent on armaments toward the development that can ensure lasting peace."

Finnish Ambassador Pasi Patokallio, chairman of the NPT preparatory conferences, said at a press conference that the "overwhelming majority of the states of the world" are party to the treaty, a demonstration of the interest states have in nuclear non-proliferation.

Patokallio said that as a negotiator for Finland he has sensed "growing support for that indefinite extension" of the treaty, the option his country is backing.

The extension of the NPT will be the central and final question before the conference, which will also be conducting the fifth review of the treaty. The NPT, which was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology as well as further the goal of general and complete disarmament, came into force March 5, 1970. It also established a safeguards system administered by the IAEA, and it promotes cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear technology.

Article X of the treaty stipulates that the conference convened 25 years after the treaty's entry into force is to decide on its extension. The decision, which is to be taken by a majority of the parties, will determine whether the NPT is extended indefinitely or for a fixed period or periods of time.

From April 18 to May 5 the conference will review the treaty article by article. The final week of the conference -- May 8 to 12 -- will be devoted to deciding on the treaty's future. As the opening ceremonies began, delegations still had not agreed on how to take the critical decision.

After four preparatory meetings over 18 months and a special two-day session late last week, they had not agreed whether the extension would be by open or secret ballot and, if there is no majority for one option on the first round of voting, whether and when options might be eliminated in order to build a majority.