NEW YORK – Ahead of a major conference on nuclear non-proliferation at the UN this week, top US officials say they are making progress on sanctions against Iran and will work “as long as it takes” to pass a strong resolution.
Briefing reporters in Washington and New York on Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said talks among Security Council members were taking place with “significant pace and intensity,” but declined to elaborate on a timeline.
“We’re going to continue our efforts in New York and in capitals, as long as it takes to get a strong and sound resolution passed,” she said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to appear on Monday at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, a gathering held every five years to assess compliance and chart new actions to strengthen the 1970 arms control treaty.
The conference this year will take place from May 3 to 28, with 189 signatories to the NPT participating.
US officials, who have pursued a dual-track strategy of engagement and pressure with Iran, said they do not plan to meet with Ahmadinejad while he is in New York.
“If Iran has something new to say, it knows where to find us,” Rice said on Friday.
Israel, which has not confirmed or denied the existence of a nuclear arsenal, has not signed the NPT and will not be participating in the conference.
Cairo has said a key to stopping Iranian nuclear ambitions is to establish a nuclear-free Middle East. With the backing of non-aligned members, Egypt plans to present a working paper at the NPT conference, calling for the implementation of a 1995 resolution establishing the Middle East as a nuclear-free zone, “including the accession by Israel to the treaty as soon as possible.”
Egypt has also called for an international conference – which Israel would participate in – to jump-start the process toward a treaty to establish a nuclear-free Middle East.
“Success in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone” in the region, Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Maged Abdel Aziz told reporters last week. “We refuse the existence of any nuclear weapons, whether it is in Iran or whether it is in Israel.”
The proposed conference does not appear to have the full backing of US officials, who said they are working with their partners in Cairo on implementing the 1995 resolution.
US Under Secretary for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher said the state of the peace process did not lend itself to the sort of conference envisioned by Egypt. “We are concerned that the conditions are not right,” she said. “This is something the region has to embrace, and they have to embrace it at the right time, when all parties can participate.”
Asked if the US would call on Israel to sign the treaty, Tauscher said: “The United States has always stood for universality of the NPT.”
During a briefing with reporters ahead of the conference, Rice and Ambassador Susan Burk, special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation, said the US seeks to strengthen the treaty across three “pillars” of disarmament, nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
“We will focus on ways to improve compliance with the nonproliferation requirements of the treaty and to strengthen support for the IAEA,” Rice said. “The noncompliance of any state with its NPT obligations undermines the nonproliferation regime as a whole.”
The US supports a fully-funded IAEA that has adequate authority. “At the same time, we will work with others on preventing parties to the NPT from misusing the treaty by seeking key nuclear assistance under it and then withdrawing from it when they wish to violate its terms,” Rice said.
Without mentioning Iran by name, she said NPT violations are “corrosive.”
US Jewish groups, gearing up for the Iranian leader’s visit to New York, voiced loud opposition to Ahmadinejad’s participation in the NPT conference. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations contacted ambassadors of UN member states, and placed newspaper ads to appear on Monday, urging diplomats to walk out with he speaks on Monday morning.
“How ironic that the leading violator of the NPT and several Security
Council resolutions would be allowed to speak and no doubt resort to
the same vile accusations as in the past,” Chairman Alan Solow and
Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a statement. “The
leaders of Iran who participate in the NPT Review Conference must
understand the determination of countries that value democracy and
freedom and oppose Iran’s hegemonic goals and aspirations toward a
nuclear weapons capability.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York issued an action
alert urging readers to e-mail UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at
firstname.lastname@example.org to protest Ahmadinejad’s inclusion in the conference.
The World Jewish Congress asked its member communities to contact their
government representatives to persuade them to participate in the
protest walkout, saying in a statement, “It is dismaying that, once
again, the UN is allowing the head of a regime foremost in the
sponsorship of terrorism and the abuse of human rights, who defies UN
resolutions regarding its nuclear ambitions, to appear before the
international body.”JTA contributed to this report.