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UN Nuclear Proliferation Meeting Ends Without Agreement

A global conference aimed at strengthening controls on the spread of nuclear weapons has ended without agreement. But delegates rejected suggestions that the meeting had been a failure.

Brazilian diplomat Sergio de Queiroz Duarte Friday brought down the gavel ending a month of bickering among the more than 180 signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The twice-a-decade treaty review conferences have in the past yielded significant progress in strengthening the accord, which is considered the cornerstone of arms control.

But as he closed this seventh review, Ambassador de Queiroz Duarte admitted that, this time, the hoped for success had been elusive. "I think substantively very little has been accomplished, in terms of results, in terms of agreements, final decisions," he said.

Several delegates and observers, in final day speeches and statements, called the conference a failure and an exercise in frustrated international diplomacy. Some claimed the lack of an agreement had undermined the treaty, which is considered the cornerstone of arms control.

But Ambassador de Queiroz Duarte brushed aside those arguments. "You have to look at this in two different dimensions, the physical accomplishments in terms of final decisions of substance of which as you know there haven't been any, and on other hand, which is very important, the opportunity for delegations to exchange their preoccupations, their concerns, put forth their national views, so it is perhaps hasty and too superficial to simply declare conference has been a failure," he said.

But both inside the conference hall an in the corridors outside, where lobbyists and arms control activists gathered, skeptics far outnumbered those who saw a positive side to the outcome. Many blamed the United States, charging it has backed away from previous arms control commitments.

In a clear reference to Washington, Canadian delegate Paul Meyer said denying agreements of the past had cast doubt on the treaty's credibility. "If governments simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never be able to build an edifice of international cooperation and confidence in the security realm," he said.

U.S. officials have denied undermining the conference. Richard Grenell of the U.S. mission to the United Nations said the United States was willing to talk about arms control issues if other countries would agree to discuss urgent non-proliferation matters.

In her speech to the closing session, U.S. delegate Jackie Sanders lamented that Washington's efforts to place Iran and North Korea, at the forefront had been rejected. "There was important discussion of the grave challenges to security and to the non proliferation regime posed by Iran's and the DPRK's (North Korea's) noncompliance with their nonproliferation and safeguards obligations. It is unfortunate that efforts to bring this discussion forward to this body were blocked," he said.

Experts, however, say the lack of consensus at the NPT conference is unlikely to damage efforts to curb nuclear ambitions in Pyongyang and Tehran. Former U.S. diplomat Thomas Graham, who had a hand in negotiating every arms agreement of the past 30 years, predicts the failure in New York will mean little to ongoing negotiations involving Iran and North Korea. "I don't think it will have a great effect. They are both being dealt with on separate channels. If it can be revived, the six party talks in northeast Asia, and of course the EU talks with Iran. So I don't think it'll have a great effect," he said.

Others agreed that the lack of consensus would have little negative fallout. Arms control regimes, including the NPT will continue in effect as before.

As he closed the four-week conference, Ambassador de Queiroz Duarte said the meeting had strengthened his conviction that the treaty enjoys the full support of all its parties.

The next NPT review is scheduled for 2010, five years from now.