The Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), currently under way at Headquarters, would be very difficult and particularly delicate, Conference President-elect Abdallah Baali told correspondents at a press conference this afternoon. The Conference, the first since the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995, was taking place at a time when the international context was not very favourable. "So there will be a lot of discussion and debate”, he said "but I am hopeful that we will be able to come to some agreement". There was also hope for particular progress regarding additional steps in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
Mr. Baali went on to say that while he would not rule out any "hot debates" that might spring up during the course of the Conference, he would give "strong direction" to the participants, with a view to bridging differences between delegations so that a positive conclusion could be reached. The Conference is scheduled to run through 19 May, and so far there were more than 20 Foreign Affairs Ministers and 13 Vice-Ministers set to address delegations. The three main committees, each of which is tasked to review specific aspects of the Treaty, would begin their work tomorrow and would submit their final reports to the General Assembly in three weeks.
Mr. Baali was pleased to announce that after long, serious discussions, the Conference had been able to establish two subsidiary bodies that would work concurrently with the main committees. The first subsidiary body would consider practical steps towards nuclear disarmament and the implementation of the applicable sections of article VI of the Treaty. The second subsidiary body would examine regional conflicts, with a particular emphasis on the Middle East, and the implementation of the resolution on that region adopted at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference.
A correspondent noted that at previous review conferences, some delegations, particularly the United States, had strongly objected to the idea of creating subsidiary bodies. How did they appear "out of the blue" this time around, he wondered? Mr. Baali said that the issue of subsidiary bodies had been under discussion for some weeks. In fact, consultations with all interested parties, including the United States, had been ongoing since January in an attempt to resolve the issue. "So it was not 'out of the blue'", he said, "but a beautiful surprise for everyone". There was mostly a need to clarify the mandate of those subsidiary bodies and the principles under which they would work. He stressed that they would not be intersessional bodies. Their role would be comparable to that of any working group created within the United Nations system; their mandate, to report their findings to the Main Committees, would end at the close of the Conference. "If there is a consensus, that will be fine, but if there isn't, then we will take note of that fact."
The idea of “bridging gaps” between the delegations was noble, a correspondent said, but what specific issues might be addressed that would ease tensions on all sides of such sensitive subject matter? First and foremost, there was real frustration among the non-nuclear-weapon States as to what had been considered the slow pace of nuclear disarmament, said Mr. Baali. There had also
been the appeal by the nuclear-weapon States for realistic expectations; nuclear disarmament could not occur overnight. "So, there are high expectations on both sides of this issue, and while they may be extreme positions, we must work to find a common ground."
This might be easier said than done, however, since conferences such as the current review operate on the basis of consensus. "One party can not force its views on another”, he said. The NPT itself presented a specific problem, since parties to the Treaty commit themselves to non-proliferation. In return, those parties expect a determined effort on the part of nuclear-weapon States to actively pursue disarmament. "So while those States do disarm, they refuse any time-frame requests or other measures that might be imposed upon them."
Noting the current debate between the United States, China and the Russian Federation centred around whether the development of the United States national ballistic missile defence system undermined the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, another correspondent pointed out that there were also differences of opinion and conflicts among the nuclear-weapon States. She wondered how an issue such as this could be addressed. Would reference to it be made in the final outcome document to the Conference? "This is one of the most difficult issues that we will be dealing with”, Mr. Baali said, "and right now, I can't tell you how we are going to solve it". There had been a resolution adopted by the General Assembly which maintained the integrity of the ABM Treaty of 1972, so there were, in fact, many countries that were interested in the issue. "If I find a solution I will be very glad to share it with you”, he continued, "but I don’t think it will be possible before the end of the Conference".
"For the time being, I think it will be wise to give the chairmen of the main committees the opportunity to work on possible agreement not only for the review, but for the proposals of further initiatives to be included in the forward-looking document. However, at some point during the Conference, an assessment of progress on all relevant issues, including disarmament concerns, would have to be made. If, at that time, a "major stalemate" had been identified, there might be a need for further consultations beyond the closing date of the Conference.
There had already been five Review Conferences, and three of them had ended without final documents, he said. "So while it would be nothing new if the current conference ended without a final document, it would be most detrimental to the regime of non-proliferation." The commitments made at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, particularly those regarding nuclear disarmament, required at the very least fair and careful consideration. The countries that had accepted the indefinite extension of the NPT, already frustrated by the slow pace of disarmament, deserved to see at least "modest" steps forward. "Otherwise, their frustrations will grow”, he said, "and I cannot really predict what their attitude would be".
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