28 September 2006
General Assembly
GA/DIS/3317

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-first General Assembly

First Committee

1st Meeting (PM)


DISARMAMENT COMMITTEE HOLDS ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING;

 

DEBATE WILL BEGIN 2 OCTOBER

 


The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), in an organizational meeting today, adopted its programme of work and agenda for the sixty-first session.


The work programme is divided into three phases.  The first, from 2 to 9 October, will be a general debate on all disarmament and international security agenda items.  Those include, among others, reducing nuclear danger, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, missiles, verification, preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and the illicit small arms trade.


The second phase, to be held from 10 to 20 October, will be a thematic discussion on all items, as well as the introduction and consideration of all draft resolutions and decisions.  The final phase, from 23 October to 31 October, involves action on all draft texts.


Committee Chairperson Mona Juul ( Norway) presided over today’s meeting and welcomed the new bureau.  Its members are:  Andy Rachmianto ( Indonesia), Bostjan Malovrh ( Slovenia), Federico Perazza ( Uruguay) and Rapporteur Abdelhamid Gharbi ( Tunisia).


Background


The Committee’s debate will begin Monday against an international backdrop that includes Iran’s nuclear programme, the impasse over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and what Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called “a growing international rift” on the most dangerous threat to international peace and security, exemplified by last years failure on two occasions, to reach consensus on strengthening the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).


In a speech at the University of Tokyo in May, the Secretary General said the NPT regime is facing twin crises of compliance and confidence, with the failure of nuclear-weapon-States to fully disarm amid an emphasis on possessing fewer, but more potent weapons.  Perhaps most damaging of all, he added, is the perception that the possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction offers the best protection against attack. 


The world is, thus, at a crossroads, he said.  It faces a choice between two paths, one leading to the restriction and reversal of nuclear proliferation and the other leading to a rapidly growing number of States feeling obliged to arm themselves with such weapons and non-State actors acquiring the means to carry out nuclear terrorism.  Alarmingly, the international community, through miscalculation, sterile debate and the paralysis of multilateral mechanisms “seems almost to be sleepwalking down the latter path”. 


“If ever there was a time to break the deadlock in multilateral negotiations and bring disarmament back into the limelight of the international agenda, I believe that it is now”, he said.


A similar concern was expressed by Nobuaki Tanaka, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, who told participants at the Berlin Seminar on Peace and Security in the Twenty-First Century in May that “what is to be feared is not so much the imminent collapse of the non-proliferation regime but rather a wider and more gradual erosion of its strength”.  With the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea having withdrawn from the Treaty in 2003, a second withdrawal, by Iran for example, could lead to a profound crisis of multilateral diplomacy.


To deal with such a crisis, the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, at its meetings this year in New York, called for empowering the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to respond decisively to non-compliance with the NPT so as to prevent “any wrong impression that withdrawal from the treaty is a viable or consequence-free option”.


The IAEA’s safeguards system comprises measures by which the Agency independently verifies the declarations made by States about their nuclear material and activities.  These measures are implemented under various agreements and protocols, such as the NPT and nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties.  The objectives of the comprehensive safeguards agreements are the timely detection of the diversion of significant quantities of nuclear material from peaceful uses to the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and the deterrence of such diversion by the risk of early detection.


The Model Additional Protocol, approved by the Agency’s Board of Governors on 15 May 1997, provides for verification by the Agency of the “correctness and completeness” of States’ declarations, so that there would be credible assurance of the non-diversion of nuclear material from declared nuclear activities and of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.


Addressing the IAEA’s Board of Governors earlier this month, the Agency’s Director General Mohamed ElBaradei reviewed the cases of Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which are likely to be a focus of debate in the Committee during the current session, and which, as the Secretary-General has said, need “solutions that are not only peaceful, but that buttress the integrity of the NPT”.


On Iran, Mr. ElBaradei noted that the Security Council in July adopted resolution 1696, which calls upon Iran to comply with the IAEA’s February resolution requiring the clarification of all outstanding issues relating to its nuclear programme and the full suspension of all its enrichment related and reprocessing activities.  Iran has not suspended those activities, he stated in a report submitted to both the IAEA and the Security Council at the end of August.  He added that Iran’s lack of transparency has left the Agency unable to resolve outstanding issues.


There is no further evidence of undeclared nuclear material in Iran, apart from the small quantities previously reported to the IAEA, he added.  He nonetheless expressed “serious concern” about the Agency’s inability to resolve the issues pertaining to the scope and nature of Iran’s centrifuge enrichment programme, which prevented the Agency from providing assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities.


On the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said the IAEA has not been able to draw any conclusions regarding its nuclear activities since 2002, but stands ready to work with all parties in finding a solution that addresses the needs of the country and the international community, while ensuring that all its nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.


Terrorism is another critical concern among disarmament experts.  The Secretary-General’s Advisory Board recommended strengthening all relevant international initiatives, especially in the field of possible acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, their precursors, know-how and delivery systems by non-State actors.  The private sector, in particular the arms industry, should also be involved in addressing such threats, the Board said.


The Secretary-General himself called for additional measures to address the problem of non-State actors in his May report, “Uniting Against Terrorism”, in which he also called bioterrorism “the most important under-addressed threat relating to terrorism, and one which acutely requires new thinking on the part of the international community”.  He proposed holding a forum to bring together key biotechnology stakeholders to push for a global initiative to minimize the dangers of biotechnology misuse.


On other issues, the Conference on Disarmament, the world’s sole multilateral forum for disarmament negotiations, is working to an agreed schedule for the first time in a decade, with particular efforts to reflect the security concerns of all States.  The Disarmament Commission, the specialized deliberative body that focuses on specific disarmament issues, met for three weeks in April but only made minor changes in its working methods, amid persistent questions about how, and even whether, it could better fulfil its unique mandate and advance the disarmament agenda.


The Small Arms Review Conference, held at headquarters in late June and early July, ended without agreement on a formal outcome document, thus failing to provide the General Assembly with either a mandate to conduct a further review in five years or guidance on future implementation.  The issue will be studied further by a United Nations intergovernmental expert group, which will hold its first session in November.  Progress was made in one aspect of small arms control -- in December the General Assembly adopted an international tracing instrument to identify and trace illicit small arms.


The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 2 October, to begin its general debate.


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For information media • not an official record