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Non-Proliferation Conference Bogged Down by Disagreements


A conference on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is in its final days at the United Nations with prospects for a successful outcome increasingly dim. Delegates are racing against time to reach agreement before Friday, when the conference closes.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference moves into its final 72 hours with sharp differences separating its 188 member countries. It took nearly the first three weeks of the month-long conference to agree on an agenda, and as the clock ticks toward Friday's scheduled adjournment, delegates and observers are already pointing fingers of blame for what is shaping up as a failure.

Algerian Ambassador and chief delegate Abdallah Baali, who chaired the last conference in 2000, said he sees little hope of salvaging an agreement. "Apparently there are very deep serious differences between delegations so it would be difficult to come to any agreement in such a short time," he said.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, chief Canadian delegate to the conference Paul Meyer charged that some parties to the treaty seem indifferent to the possibility of failure. "The last five years in particular have demonstrated the serious assaults upon this treaty's integrity. If we want it to remain vital, if we want it to retain its authority, we're going to have to begin taking it seriously, shrug off the complacency that has so far characterized the attitudes of many of the countries that are signatories to this treaty and begin to take remedial action," he said.

Joining the Canadian delegate at a news conference was former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Mc Namara. Mr. Mc Namara, now 88-years old and a leading voice in the disarmament movement, predicted the conference would fail, since it had little chance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to countries such as Iran and North Korea.

"The objectives of the non proliferation review conference now under way should be to strengthen the treaty, but in addition, it should ensure that North Korea and Iran do not become nuclear powers. I believe there's a high probability, in fact I'd say certainty, that the conference will fail to achieve those objectives," he said.

Mr. Mc Namara said if North Korea and Iran are allowed to have atomic weapons, other countries might follow suit. He mentioned Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in Asia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria in the Middle East as countries that might be tempted to go nuclear.

Former U.S. diplomat and arms negotiator Thomas Graham warned that if nuclear weapons become widespread, every conflict would run the risk of going nuclear. He said it would then be impossible to keep nuclear arms out of the hands of terrorists. "We have to face the stark truth that nuclear proliferation remains major threat to world safety in the 21st century," he said.

The conference taking place at U.N. headquarters is the seventh since the NPT went into effect in 1970. The treaty is based on what is called a "core bargain". It commits the five declared nuclear weapons states to disarm, while 183 non-nuclear signatories pledge not to acquire nuclear arms.

Non-nuclear members have pushed for the conference to focus on disarmament, while the United States and other nuclear powers want greater emphasis on the issue of proliferation.