19 May 2000


19 May 2000

Press Briefing



In the end, actions would mean much more than the words that countries had been fighting over for the last four weeks, correspondents were told at a Headquarters press conference this morning, sponsored by the Department for Disarmament Affairs.

Addressing the outcome of the 2000 Review Conference of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Executive Director of the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, Daryl G. Kimball, said that the Conference, in many ways, represented a lost opportunity, particularly on the part of the nuclear-weapon States, to directly address the problems that had emerged since the 1995 Extension and Review Conference.

Also at the press conference were Felicity Hill, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director of Acronym Institute; Jean McSorely of Greenpeace International; and Alice Slater, Director of the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment.

Ms. Hill said that last night the delegates had been busy until 1 a.m. attempting to get consensus on the documents to be produced by the Review Conference. The President of the Conference, Abdallah Baali (Algeria), was making a ruling whether it would be one document or two -- a forward-looking and a backward-looking one. Yesterday, there had been a breakthrough, with the Russian Federation and France finally agreeing on the action plan for the next five-year period. As yet, China had not given the go-ahead on the paper that had come out of the four weeks of intensive negotiations.

On the positive side, the language of the New Agenda Coalition had been retained, she said, which included an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear- weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all States parties were committed under article VI of the Treaty. Other noteworthy points of the plan included the principle of irreversibility to be applied to nuclear disarmament. It meant that once reductions had been made, the arsenals would not be built up again.

She said that NATO-5 -- the non-nuclear North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries -- had also succeeded in including reference to non-strategic nuclear weapons, which related to the United States tactical nuclear weapons still based in Europe. Regular reporting by the nuclear-weapon States -- and all other States within the framework of the strengthened review process -- was also in, and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) welcomed that "point of leverage". Thus, the document contained "a lot to work with", although the NGO reactions were “quite mixed”.

This morning, the NGOs had issued "a report card" for the States parties at the Review Conference, she continued. Scoring 9 out of 10 were Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt and Sweden -- the New Agenda Coalition States. Scoring 6 out of 10 were the Non-Aligned Movement countries, which had held their ground, but "seemed strangely confused about the nuclear- power issue". The NATO-5 -- Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Norway -- had scored 5 out of 10, because they had succeeded in including references to

NPT Press Conference - 2 - 19 May 2000

transparency and tactical nuclear weapons. "And scoring minus several million were the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, which remained addicted to the suicidal, genocidal and ecocidal weapons", she said.

Ms. Johnson said that her organization -- the Acronym Institute -- monitored the proceedings of the Conference and transmitted information, "so that people outside of the United Nations can see what is going on".

The day had started very positively yesterday, she said, with at least the acceptance by the nuclear-weapon States and the New Agenda Coalition of a document that was a "watered down" version of the text refined from the work of Subsidiary Body I, chaired by Clive Pearson of New Zealand. Some very important elements of the document comprised an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear- weapon States to: accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament; take steps to reduce non-strategic nuclear weapons; achieve irreversibility; and diminish the role of nuclear weapons in security policies.

By the end of yesterday morning, the only element still in dispute concerned the paragraph on transparency, which China was opposing. Initially, that country had said that it could only accept the paragraph if it also contained a confidence-building measure of non-first use. Later, China dropped that demand. No conclusions had been reached so far, but China had said that it was prepared to provide information on its nuclear capabilities in the context of negotiations. It was unclear what that meant in practice, because currently China was not engaged in any negotiations. Consultations were continuing in an effort to decide whether the paragraph on transparency should be deleted or amended.

Three outstanding issues still remained, she continued. One concerned the situation in the Middle East. The issue of Israel had been resolved, but negotiations continued on how to characterize the non-compliance by Iraq. Some States, including China, Syria and Iraq itself, were saying that Iraq was not in non-compliance and that any reference to that country should be deleted. Similarly, it had not been decided whether the document should contain mention of the initiative by Belarus to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central and Eastern Europe. That proposal was opposed by 15 countries of the former Warsaw Pact.

The major difficulty, however, was a review of progress on nuclear disarmament since 1995, she said. The Chairman of Main Committee I, Camilo Reyes Rodriguez (Colombia), had pulled together the views expressed within that body and handed them to the President. Since then, clashing views had been expressed, and the negotiations were "very, very stuck". The nuclear-weapon States were blamed, because they were not prepared to allow references, for example, to the 35,000 nuclear weapons still in their arsenals, even though that was a direct quote from the opening address by the United Nations Secretary- General Kofi Annan. They also did not want any reference to the Conference on Disarmament, which had been put forward among possible suggestions in the Secretary-General's report. There was a long argument about nuclear testing and qualitative development of weapons. By the time the Drafting Committee broke up, the situation seemed very bitter. However, the work was continuing today, and "a good night's sleep can sometimes make a difference."

Ms. McSorely said that Greenpeace had a profound sense of disappointment with the international diplomatic community. In 1995, many of the commitments had been watered down, and it should not happen again in the New Millennium. Unfortunately, what was happening was yet another face-off between the countries that wanted nuclear-weapon States to abide by their legally binding commitments and those who wanted to retain their nuclear arsenals. Looking at the nuclear- weapon States and their allies today, many had the feeling that no matter what words were put on paper, there was no real commitment. If a country did not honestly believe the words it was signing, it would not disarm.

"I have to think -- do we want another 30 years of the politics that we have seen over the last 50 years?" she asked. None of those countries were committing the same amount of energy and resources to getting rid of nuclear weapons as they were committing to retaining and, in some cases, developing and modernizing them. The time had come to change.

Alice Slater, Director of the Global Resource Action Center for Environment, said that she was also a founder of Abolition 2000 -- a global network for elimination of nuclear weapons. That grass-roots organization had been formed during the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, when "five nuclear thugs and their allies beat up the rest of the world and got this NPT reviewed and extended unconditionally and indefinitely. And there was no real speaking about nuclear abolition."

The network had drafted its own abolition statement, she continued, calling for a treaty by the year 2000 to eliminate nuclear weapons, just as the world had done for biological and chemical weapons. It had also drafted such a treaty, having sought advice from experts from all over the world. The draft treaty was now an official United Nations document, submitted by Costa Rica. Abolition 2000 had done its part, but five years later there was no treaty. The organization was campaigning for nuclear abolition, however, and it had submitted a petition signed by more than 13 million people to Ambassador Baali during the first week of the Review Conference. At present, it was "business as usual" for the nuclear-weapon States, and she hoped that the grass-roots movement could mobilize and make alliances with the "Seattle crowd" and "Washington crowd" to demonstrate that the whole world wanted to get rid of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Kimball also said that he had been following the Conference from Washington, and his perspective would be slightly different from other speakers. While some breakthroughs could still be achieved in the work of the Conference, it was necessary to look at the larger picture.

Referring to the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) question, the draft document produced yesterday morning stated that the agreement on preserving and strengthening the ABM Treaty was the cornerstone of strategic stability. That could mean many things to different people. To the Clinton Administration, it meant modifying the Treaty to allow a limited national missile defence. To the leaders in Moscow, that was incompatible with the ABM Treaty and the concept of strategic stability. Beijing was also opposed to any sort of modification of the Treaty. Thus, the key question was how the nuclear-weapon States would act following the Review Conference in regard to that rather ambiguous statement, which "papered over the key differences".

Another key dispute being papered over concerned the role of nuclear weapons in military and foreign policy, and the document said that the Conference supported the diminishing role for nuclear weapons in that regard. There was a great deal of disagreement of what that actually meant in terms of action. There was a debate raging in the United States Senate regarding the role of nuclear weapons in the policy of that country. There were reports that the Pentagon was reviewing the United States nuclear force requirements in preparation for the upcoming Putin-Clinton Summit. There was no consensus on that issue in Washington, and the Conference would not succeed in resolving the issue with that kind of language.

In conclusion, he said that the final assessment of the Conference would not be clear until the time when the United States, Russia and, to some extent, China would work out a resolution to the ongoing national missile defence debate and until President Clinton decided whether to deploy such a system. Before giving a final assessment of the Conference, it was also necessary to better understand the future policies of the nuclear-weapon States.

Responding to a question on whether the final documents would contain condemnation of India and Pakistan, which had tested nuclear weapons since 1995, Ms. Johnson said that some States participating in the Conference had wanted to send a very clear message to those countries that by developing nuclear weapons they were going against the international norms. Others, however, wanted to take a pragmatic view and were concerned that the use of strong terms like "condemn" and "deplore" could provoke a backlash within India and Pakistan. Thus, the references to those countries were more in terms of calls to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and to fulfil the requirements of relevant Security Council resolutions. There was also "a ritualistic call" to those two countries and Israel to put their nuclear facilities under the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, many at the Conference felt that the issue had not been clearly and sufficiently addressed.

Ms. McSorely added that in 1995 decisions had been made by which five countries could retain weapons of mass destruction and that the rest of the world could not have them. Sometimes, it was necessary to challenge the language that was being adopted. Such situation should not be "an international norm".

Ms. Johnson added that the NPT actually did not accept the possession by five States of nuclear weapons. Actually, the Treaty clearly recognized that non-proliferation not only required new States to sign up promising not to acquire nuclear weapons, but also required the five nuclear-weapon States to get rid of their nuclear weapons. There was no acceptance of a nuclear "status quo" in the Treaty. The nuclear-weapon States did behave as though the Treaty allowed them to retain nuclear weapons in perpetuity, but that was not the case.

Ms. Slater said that India had also behaved that way. It had refused to sign the NPT for many years, saying it was two-tiered. It kept calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons before it decided to go ahead with testing of its own weapons. India's public statements testified to the fact that it felt left behind.

Asked to comment on the statements that it did not matter how much countries struggled over words if nuclear-weapon States reneged on their previous commitments, Ms. Johnson said that, in many ways, the Conference represented wasted opportunities. However, there were also some optimistic signs. Until yesterday's agreement, she had felt that the Conference was going backward instead of forward. It was very limited in many ways, but it presented some opportunities. If the Conference adopted documents today -- although much could still go wrong -- some very useful tools would be produced, which could keep "the backsliders and holdouts" from holding the rest of the world hostage.

To a question about strengthening the review process, Ms. Johnson said that she could not answer the question. It was "completely in flux", and it would not be clear until the end of the day if the issue would be addressed in the final documents. Obviously, the Conference would not go back on the previous decisions, but it was not clear if they would be refined.

Asked, what was going on today, she said that the day had started with the expanded group -- containing the New Agenda Coalition, permanent Security Council members, and several other countries -- trying to see what agreement could be reached on the review section. Consultations were going on with the participation of the President and chairs of the subsidiary bodies of the Conference. A plenary was scheduled for 3 p.m. with the intention of adopting the documents. It could probably be postponed, and "it could turn out to be a long night".

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For information media. Not an official record.