News / Middle East

    Iran, North Korea Raise Concerns at NPT Conference

    Margaret Besheer

    Delegations at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference raised concerns about Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs during the second day of the general debate, saying they provide serious challenges to the treaty's aim of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad garnered much media attention at the opening of the conference on Monday. He was the only head of state in attendance and his government faces new U.N. sanctions for its dubious nuclear program. He gave a long and  defiant speech criticizing the United States and several of its allies, prompting more than a few delegations to walk out of the assembly hall in protest.

    On Tuesday, the focus on Iran continued, but with Mr. Ahmadinejad absent. Several countries expressed concerns about whether Tehran's nuclear pursuits are for civilian or military purposes.

    German Minister of State Werner Hoyer:

    "Iran unfortunately refuses to comply with the international community's demands and rejects its very far-reaching offers of negotiation," he said. "Further sanctions must make it clear to Tehran that this refusal has a price."

    The five permanent members of the Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - plus Germany, have been negotiating possible new sanctions.

    Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters that while his country favors dialogue and engagement, he does believe the sanctions discussions are "slowly moving forward."

    "I'm reasonably optimistic," he said. "I do believe that everyone else understands and appreciates the principle position of Russia - which is whatever sanctions to be agreed upon at any time in future, they should serve the case of strengthening the regime of nuclear non-proliferation."

    France's representative, Eric Danon, also expressed frustration with what he said is Iran's "defiant attitude".

    "Together with its partners, France has made a number of far-reaching offers to Iran," said Danon. "But dialogue is not an end in itself; dialogue must produce results."

    Danon said Iran has left the international community with no other option but to consider new sanctions.

    North Korea's nuclear activities have also raised alarm among its neighbors and other countries.

    Pyongyang announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 and subsequently conducted two nuclear tests. South Korean delegate Cho Hyun said the North's nuclear development is one of the most serious challenges to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

    "The DPRK should demonstrate both a clear commitment as well as concrete actions toward denuclearization," said Hyun. "Furthermore, we urge the DPRK to cease all aggressive and provocative rhetoric and behaviors that may pose a threat to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia."

    Japan echoed those concerns, saying North Korea's nuclear tests pose a "grave threat" to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and are "absolutely unacceptable."

    Countries speaking at the debate also urged the implementation of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East, as laid out in a 1995 resolution, and welcomed such zones in other parts of the world, including Africa and Central Asia.

    Review conferences of the NPT have been held every five years since the treaty went into effect in 1970. Delegates from the 189 countries belonging to the treaty will discuss compliance with its three pillars - nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy - during the month long conference.

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