A month-long conference at the United Nations on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) has reached the mid-point amid growing concern it may end in failure. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging the 188-member conference to take its job seriously and speed up the pace of work.
He lamented the lack of progress at the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference. Speaking to reporters, he noted that delegates had little more to show for the first two weeks of deliberations than the adoption of an agenda.
Mr. Annan said recent nuclear developments in North Korea and Iran underscore the need for a stronger NPT. "What is happening indicates the urgency for the member states to really take this conference seriously and try and strengthen the NPT. Of course, I am concerned, like everybody else, that it took two weeks to agree on an agenda. The issues are known, and I hope they will be able to accelerate their work and make some progress. But I am concerned, yes," he said.
Delegates to the conference warn, however, that progress in updating and strengthening the 35-year-old treaty is easier said than done.
The tussle over agenda priorities is but one example of the complex issues involved.
In general terms, the treaty's five declared nuclear powers, the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - see the conference as an opportunity to check the spread of nuclear weapons.
Many of the other 183 member states - the non-nuclear group - want more emphasis on disarmament promises the nuclear powers made at past conferences.
But conference president Sergio de Queiroz Duarte of Brazil says the disarmament versus non-proliferation explanation is too simplistic. With so many issues on the table, Mr. De Queiroz Duarte says there are many more than two sides to the debate. "There are no two sides, there are several sides. You can discern some general tendencies, but I don't think you can say there are two sides present everywhere in the conference. I'd be at a loss to say which are these two sides. You can say nuclear disarmament versus proliferation, but that's not completely true, because most of those that asked for stronger measures on disarmament are also concerned with proliferation," he said.
The Brazilian diplomat says he still holds out hope that the conference can find an agreement that would reinforce the non-proliferation treaty, which is considered the cornerstone of efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. He says his hope is based on the experience of the 2000 conference, where a last minute deal saved the meeting from failure.
"I was not here in 2000 but I'm told in 2000 until the last day there was no agreement, there was wrangling, there was a sense of despondency, and miraculously, as I was told, from Friday afternoon to Saturday, in the wee hours of Saturday this wonderful text, unequivocal commitment suddenly sprung up, so why should we lose hope," he said.
Ambassador de Queiroz Duarte said he is also hopeful North Korea may return to the NPT. The Pyongyang government was one of the 188 countries that signed the treaty, but withdrew in 2003 after admitting it had a secret nuclear weapons program.
The diplomat gave no concrete reason for his optimism, but said just in case, he is holding the nameplate that would mark North Korea's seat in the conference hall.
North Korea is the only country to have pulled out of the treaty. Three other U.N. member states - India, Pakistan and Israel - have not joined. Rival India and Pakistan acknowledge having nuclear weapons and both conducted tests in 1998. Israel is widely believed to have a stockpile of more than 200 nuclear weapons.