23 May 2000


23 May 2000

Press Briefing



Following month-long exhausting negotiations, agreement had been reached on the final document of the 2000 Review Conference of Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Conference President Abdallah Baali (Algeria) told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning.

At the end, there had been some very tense and difficult moments, he continued, and the final outcome of the Conference became "a wonderful surprise to all the participants and to the international community". The results of the Conference were splendid. In many respects, the outcome was historic, and the Secretary-General had correctly qualified it as such.

The results of the Conference far surpassed expectations, he said. First of all, it was the first time since 1985 that an NPT Review Conference had been able to produce a final forward- and backward-looking document. In the field of nuclear disarmament, the parties had agreed on strong and meaningful substantive steps, which far exceeded the modest moves that most people had envisaged at the beginning of the event. That was one of the most important achievements of the Conference. The document, which was adopted on Saturday, would be made available to delegations at the end of the week. Yesterday he had approved the final text of the document, which had been prepared by the Secretariat and was now being translated into all the official languages of the United Nations.

"How is the world safer with the agreement which was reached Saturday?" a correspondent asked. Mr. Baali said that the world would be definitely safer only after it totally eliminated nuclear weapons. However, the achievements of the Conference constituted a step forward, which would make the world a little bit safer. That was the way it was necessary to move forward -- step by step.

Asked to comment on the lack of strict deadlines in the final document, Mr. Baali said that it would have been unrealistic to set a timetable. At the same time, it was necessary to remember that review of the implementation of the Treaty took place every five years. There was also the Preparatory Committee, which was supposed to look at the way the commitments to the NPT were being implemented. Thus, the decisions of the Conference were not just vague promises. The States had proclaimed an unequivocal commitment to nuclear disarmament and agreed to some concrete steps. Now, the international community would be closely watching how the nuclear-weapon States were going to implement the commitments they made. There was also hope that the fissile material cut-off treaty would be concluded in five years.

Responding to a question about the controversy between the United States and Iraq during the negotiations, he said that the Middle East problem -- and the Iraqi problem in particular -- had represented a serious threat for the outcome of the Conference at a certain moment. For that reason, during the last hours of negotiations, efforts had been intensified to reach an agreement. States parties put pressure on the two countries to have the problem solved, so that it would not jeopardize "all the magnificent work" already done. After very intense efforts, an acceptable text on Iraq became possible.

Baali Press Conference - 2 - 23 May 2000

Asked to comment on a remark by the United States representative that "the unequivocal undertaking" had always been his country's commitment and the new text was "more of the same", Mr. Baali replied that it was the first time that a document clearly stated that commitment to nuclear disarmament was unequivocal. That was something new. Maybe for some nuclear-weapon States it had always been the case, but the clear statement in the document of the Conference gave it certain weight, and made it more difficult for countries to reconsider their approach to nuclear disarmament.

Replying to a question about the contribution of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the compromises achieved at the Conference, Mr. Baali said that they had played a very important role and contributed to the success of the Conference by explaining the issues, drawing attention to some important problems and putting pressure on the parties to achieve a successful outcome. As for the negotiations themselves, they was essentially between Member States that were directly involved.

To a question about the role of the Japanese delegation at the Conference, he replied that Japan had been very active even before the Conference started. It had also actively participated in the Conference itself. Its delegation had made some proposals, including eight elements of nuclear disarmament. However, the success of the Conference was the result of joint efforts by all countries and not just one.

Responding to a question about the expectations for the upcoming United States-Russian Federation summit, Mr. Baali said it would be an opportunity for the Russian and American leaders to come to an agreement about the very difficult issue of the United States’ national missile defence system and its impact on the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The Russians had made it clear that if it was not resolved, it could ruin all previous achievements in the field of nuclear disarmament. Thus, it was extremely important for the two countries to come to an agreement. At the Conference, however, he had been very relieved that the issue had not "taken the whole Conference hostage". The question had been discussed, but the fact that the five nuclear-weapon States had agreed on the language allowed the Conference to focus on the substantive issues and make progress on them.

Referring to the so-called "Nuclear Doomsday Clock" that supposedly had been pointing to seven minutes before midnight prior to the Conference, a correspondent asked where the Clock was now. Mr. Baali replied that obviously, it was further away from the disaster. What the Conference had achieved was very important and needed to be strengthened. The nuclear threat had not been eliminated, but it had become more remote.

Asked about the "near-complete media blackout" during the Conference, he said that maybe in this country, the event had not received much attention. However, that was not true for the rest of the world. In general, the media attention had not been very significant, because nuclear weapons were not the main killer nowadays. It was small arms that had become the weapon of numerous conflicts around the world. To some extent, humankind had been reminded about the nuclear threat by the tests in South Asia, but currently public opinion did not really believe in the possibility of a nuclear war. That explained why it had been possible to achieve an incredible mobilization of international public opinion on the issue of landmines several years ago. The same mobilization had not been possible for nuclear weapons. However, if an accident were to happen in the nuclear field tomorrow, the media and the public would be more interested.

Asked to characterize the 2000 Conference as compared with the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, Mr. Baali said that the decisions of the 1995 Conference had been clearly reaffirmed. A decision had been made in 1995 regarding the strengthened review process. From what he had heard from delegations, he believed that it would be useful to improve the strengthened review process, particularly the work of the Preparatory Committee. For that reason, from the very beginning of the Conference he had been seeking the views of delegations on means of improving the efficiency of the review process. An agreement had been reached which would make the work of the Preparatory Committee more focused and substantive, ensuring permanence and accountability. It would definitely make the Preparatory Committee more effective.

Responding to a question on whether the lack of agreement between Russia and the United States would represent a significant threat to the NPT process, Mr. Baali said that it was absolutely vital that Russia and the United States came to an agreement. The threat by Russia was a cause of concern, and he only hoped that both sides would understand that failure to reach an agreement was not in the interests of the world. The agreement would allow the Russians to continue to implement the agreements on nuclear disarmament and the outcome of the Conference. Many voices now were clearly in opposition to the United States national missile defence system for many reasons, and it was important that those voices were heard. When time came to make a final decision on the nuclear-missile defence system, it would be necessary to take into consideration the common interests of mankind.

Asked if any mechanisms existed to make those views known, he said that the Preparatory Committee would hold three sessions in 2002, 2003 and 2004. That was a mechanism which could be used when needed.

Any agreement between the United States and Russia would be based on the concept of strategic stability and retention of nuclear arsenals by those two countries, a correspondent said. Asked to comment on that statement, Mr. Baali said it was a very subtle balance, which had emerged during the negotiations. The world would just have to live with it, and he could not say any more than that.

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For information media. Not an official record.