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US, China Face Increasing Pressure to Sign Nuclear Test Ban Treaty - 2003-08-31

Pressure is mounting on the United States and China to ratify a nuclear test ban treaty that would ban all nuclear explosions.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization begins three days of high-level talks Wednesday at its Vienna headquarters.

The conference, which will involve more than 100 countries, has been convened by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to look at ways of speeding up the ratification process of the test ban treaty. The treaty would ban all nuclear test explosions, whether for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996, but has to be ratified by 44 named states before it can enter into force. A named state is one that participated in the 1996 negotiations and is a nuclear power or has research reactors. So far, 32 of the 44 named states have ratified the treaty. But of the five main nuclear powers, the United States and China have not ratified.

Hussein Haniff, who represents the non-aligned movement (NAM) at the conference, says these countries should set a good example by ratifying the treaty.

"The NAM position is that we feel the P5 [permanent five] plays a lead role here because they have a leadership role to do so, and we hope that all the permanent P5 countries would sign and ratify, and in fact some already have done so," said Mr. Haniff. "And we hope that the remaining members of the P5 would ratify the CTBT [comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty] as soon as possible because I believe that by doing so it will send a very positive signal where other countries would follow suit."

Other nations that have not ratified, besides the big five, include North Korea, India, Iran, Israel and Pakistan. Once the ban is in force, a global verification regime, based in Vienna, would monitor compliance with the treaty. Sophisticated seismic and infrasound technology with more than 300 facilities around the world could detect whether a country is conducting tests for a secret nuclear weapons program. Conference officials say it is unlikely the United States will ratify the treaty because it believes the verification process is not advanced enough.