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UN Secretary General Urges Action to Forestall Arms Races

In a blunt statement to the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, the U.N. Secretary-General urged the 65-member body to start negotiations on a nuclear weapons material treaty. Ban Ki-moon said the nuclear threat was real and action must be taken to prevent the arms race. As Lisa Schlein reports for VOA on the secretary-general's speech from Geneva, he is the first U.N. secretary-general to address the yearly opening of the conference, which was established in 1979.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon did not mince his words. He told the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) to wake up and get serious about controlling the nuclear threats proliferating around the world.

He said a lot was at stake and it was crucial that the CD lived up to its mission of maintaining international peace and security. And, to do this, he said progress was needed in disarmament negotiations to forestall arms races.

"And forestalling arms races calms tensions," Ban said. "By reducing tensions, we free up resources that would have been diverted to armaments. These resources can then be used to achieve the Millennium Development Goals."

The U.N. Millennium Development Goals aim to cut poverty in half by 2015.

Secretary-General Ban spoke about the gravity of threats facing the world and scolded the delegates before him for doing nothing to break the impasse that has stalled vital negotiations for years.

The Conference on Disarmament is the world's sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations. For the past few years it has been paralyzed by its inability to agree on a work agenda.

Differences among the United States, Russia, China and other countries have prevented negotiations on a nuclear material treaty that would ban the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium used to make nuclear bombs. Some of these countries refuse to start negotiations on these materials without simultaneously starting talks on other issues.

Ban told the U.N. body a treaty would advance nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation objectives.

"In making this call, I am not at all discounting the importance of preventing an arms race in outer space, or negative security assurances, or nuclear disarmament per se," he said. "Just the opposite; these are all perennial and very important issues before the conference. You must decide how to organize your treatment of these issues without holding any of them hostage to the others."

The U.N. chief reassured the Conference on Disarmament that it had not lost its relevance. But, he warned it was in danger of losing its way.