A month-long conference on fighting the spread of nuclear weapons is in its final day Friday with almost no hope of success. Delegates are calling the meeting a "lost opportunity".
A sense of despair hangs over the United Nations conference halls where delegates have been trying for weeks to salvage their mission of strengthening the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty. As the gathering moves into its final hours, delegates say none of the three committees assigned to develop plans of action has been able to reach a consensus.
Algerian delegate Abdallah Baali, who presided over the previous conference five years ago, admits failure is in the air. "Chairmen are going to make a short statement saying they have failed to agree on anything. Committee one hasn't agreed on anything either but it is going to send document with everything between brackets, which is tantamount to saying it failed," he said.
Without some agreement in committee, delegates say there is no hope that the conference can issue a consensus final document. The best they can hope for is a general statement endorsing non-proliferation principles.
Former senior U.S. diplomat Thomas Graham, who helped negotiate every major arms control agreement in the past 30 years, has been watching the conference from the sidelines. On the eve of the final session, Ambassador Graham told reporters the atmosphere was more negative than at any other conference he had experienced.
"It's a lost opportunity to move ahead. There have been failures in the past, but this failure appears to be at this stage the most acute failure in the history of nuclear non proliferation treaty review conference process," he said.
The former U.S. diplomat is among a large number of delegates and observers who say the United States bears much of the blame for the disarray. He accuses the Bush administration of upsetting the treaty's delicate balance by backing away from previous commitments made at the 1995 and 2000 conferences.
"I would hesitate to blame any one country for the failure of the conference, although it appears from what I've read that the U.S. has been highly intransigent at this conference and unwilling to work on the agenda that everyone has supported for many years… I do not believe as tragic as 9/11 was, I do not believe it has had effect on changing obligations in N.P.T regime," he said.
U.S. officials have sharply rejected such criticisms. Richard Grinnell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, says the conference should be taking up urgent items, such as the activities of Iran and North Korea, rather than focusing on details of past agreements.
"They're all talking about disarmament, they're all talking about past issues, all talking about 1995 and 2000, and what they're forgetting is that since the last time we met, we have had 9/11, and A.Q. Khan network discovered, clearly indicating that the emerging threats, the new threats, the threats where we used to think it's just state-sponsored terrorism and now it's terrorism-sponsored states, those have developed and we cannot afford to just exclusively talk about the past issues, we want to talk about the emerging threats and the crisis of compliance. We want to talk about both issues. Anyone who just wants to talk about the past, it's not acceptable to us," he said.
Spokesman Grinnell acknowledged that there had been limited success at the conference, but blamed Iran and Egypt for delays that stalled progress for nearly three weeks.
The non-proliferation treaty is based on a so-called "core bargain", whereby the five nuclear weapons states - China, France, Britain, Russia and the United States - agree to eventually eliminate their arsenals. In return, the 183-non-nuclear parties to the treaty are guaranteed access to peaceful nuclear technology.
This is the seventh conference to review progress made toward the twin goals of non-proliferation and disarmament. The next meeting is scheduled for 2010.