Concerns about Iran and North Korea have dominated the opening session of a month-long conference on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States is proposing international measures against countries in violation of nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
Secretary-General Annan Monday warned that the 1970 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) must be updated to meet challenges unforeseen when it was signed 35 years ago. Mr. Annan's warning came in an address to a conference at the United Nations to review the NPT, considered the cornerstone of arms control.
"The plain fact is that the regime has not kept pace with the march of technology and globalization, and developments of many kinds in recent years have placed it under great stress," he said.
Mr. Annan acknowledged that the NPT review conference faces a number of daunting challenges that have cast serious doubt on its chances for success. Among them is a clash of priorities.
On one hand, countries such as the United States, want to focus on issues such as Iran, North Korea and preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons. On the other are those pushing the big powers to make a stronger commitment to nuclear disarmament.
In his speech, the secretary-general did not mention any country by name, but he issued a clear challenge to Russia and the United States to further reduce nuclear stockpiles built up during the Cold War.
"An important step would be for former Cold War rivals to commit themselves irreversibly to further cuts in their arsenals, so that warheads number in the hundreds, not the thousands," he said.
U.S. delegate to the conference, Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker was more blunt. He referred several times to Washington's concern about suspected nuclear weapons activity in North Korea and Iran.
He expressed support for European Union efforts to persuade Tehran to provide assurances that it has ended its clandestine nuclear weapons program. But he called for international action against countries that violate their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
"Even today, Iran persists in not cooperating fully. Iran has made clear its determination to retain the nuclear infrastructure it secretly built in violation of its NPT safeguards obligations, and is continuing to develop its nuclear capabilities around the margins of the suspension it agreed to last November," he said.
Mr. Rademaker also noted that North Korea had violated the NPT repeatedly before withdrawing from the treaty two years ago. He reiterated Washington's rejection of Pyongyang's call for direct negotiations on ending its nuclear weapons program.
"We are attempting to bring together the regional players in the Six Party Talks to convince Pyongyang that its only viable option is to negotiate an end to its nuclear ambitions. We have tabled a proposal that addresses the North's stated concerns and also provides for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of North Korean nuclear programs," he said.
The NPT is reviewed every five year at a conference where consensus political commitments are not legally binding, but reinforce non-proliferation initiatives. Nearly all 191 U.N. member states are participating.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is due to address the gathering Tuesday.
Aside from North Korea, which withdrew, only three countries, India, Pakistan and Israel, have not signed the NPT convention, and are not attending the conference.