(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran has objected to language in a document reaffirming the need for full compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a move that diplomats said could torpedo a conference aimed at strengthening the accord.
The conference, which began Monday and lasts for two weeks, is the first of three sessions to prepare for a full review of the treaty in 2010 and to come up with specific ideas on how to reinforce the pact.
Iran opposed wording in the meeting's agenda that mentions the "need for full compliance with the treaty." The agenda must be adopted by consensus before delegates can move on to more substantive matters. If Iran digs in its heels, it could force the meeting to adjourn to a later date.
The treaty, reviewed every five years, calls on nations to pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons, in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - to move toward nuclear disarmament. India and Pakistan, which are known nuclear weapons states, remain outside the treaty as does Israel, which is considered to have such arms, though it has not acknowledged it.
Both Iran and North Korea have tested the 37-year-old treaty's effectiveness. The North pulled out in early 2003 and went on to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran argues it has a right to pursue uranium enrichment under the treaty despite international fears it is using the process to make nuclear weapons. The U.N. has imposed sanctions over Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
An Iranian diplomat said his delegation did not see the need for that particular wording on compliance, adding it would prefer to see "different language." Another diplomat familiar with the issue said Iran was worried about being bullied and "considered it an additional provocation."
Other diplomats at the conference said Iran seemed isolated in its stance, with even traditional allies in the nonaligned camp reluctant to reopen debate on the four-page agenda, which was drawn up before conference and is only awaiting approval.
Several expressed surprise at Iran's opposition to the wording, noting it has always maintained its nuclear activities - including a developing program to enrich uranium that has led to UN sanctions - are in compliance with the treaty.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement to the conference that the treaty was "worth reinforcing," and urged delegates to work together to find ways that could make it stronger.
"There continues to be insufficient progress in nuclear disarmament, as well as a lack of universal adherence to IAEA safeguards agreements, and cases of noncompliance," he said, referring to the UN nuclear watchdog - the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Apart from cases of outright noncompliance, nuclear powers are not doing enough to disarm, and countries are not adhering to safeguard agreements, he said.
There is a "persisting crisis of confidence in the treaty," Ban said.
Earlier, delegates urged Iran and North Korea to accept international demands that they give up their nuclear programs in order to safeguard the future of the NPT.
Singling out North Korea, Christopher A. Ford, the US Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation, said there was a need for states party to the treaty to work together to deter others from using withdrawal "as a means to escape the consequences of their violation of the treaty's provisions."
Ford said it was "important ... to make such withdrawal more unattractive before any other state party violator is tempted to follow such a course."
The EU is also concerned about the situation in North Korea and has urged Pyongyang to dismantle its "WMD and ballistics programs in a complete, irreversible and verifiable way," Ruediger Luedeking, Germany's deputy commissioner for arms control and disarmament, told the opening session Monday on behalf of the European Union.
While the North agreed in February to shut down its nuclear programs, a dispute over its access to $25 million in funds frozen at a Macau bank has delayed implementation of that pledge.
Russian delegation head Anatoly Antonov, who heads the Russian Foreign Ministry's security and disarmament department, was more upbeat about North Korea, saying there were "currently realistic prospects" for a negotiated solution.
Alluding to the North's unilateral withdrawal from the treaty, however, he noted that no North Koreans were at the meeting, and said the goal of making the treaty "completely universal remains unattained."
Officials from some 130 of the treaty's 189 signatory countries are attending the conference, excluding North Korea.