1. 40 Years on, NPT in Urgent Need of Overhaul: Experts
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The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, which celebrates its 40th birthday this week, may have succeeded in keeping the number countries in possession of nuclear weapons down to a mere handful.
But the treaty, drawn up during the Cold War period, is now in urgent need of an overhaul if it is to meet present-day challenges such as the proliferation crises in North Korea, Iran and most recently Syria, experts said.
Furthermore, the United States should take the lead in bolstering the legitimacy of the NPT and the entire non-proliferation regime by dismantling its nuclear arsenal, the experts said.
Opened for signature on July 1, 1968 and put into effect on March 5, 1970, the NPT is the most universal arms control treaty in force.
Its stated goal is to stop the nuclear arms race and seek nuclear disarmament.
Five countries that had tested nuclear weapons before the treaty's completion -- China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States -- were recognised as nuclear-weapon states and obligated to pursue "effective measures" toward nuclear disarmament.
All others were designated non-nuclear-weapon states and prohibited from acquiring nuclear arms at all.
A major problem was that no specific target date was laid down for disarmament.
And with the nuclear states apparently reluctant to dismantle and destroy their nuclear arsenals, the non-nuclear weapon states see little incentive to keep their part of the bargain.
It had created a world of "nuclear haves and have-nots ... which cannot be sustained indefinitely," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.
"Nuclear weapons are dangerous no matter who possesses them," he told AFP.
K. Subrahmanyam, a former director of the Indian Institute for Defence Studies, agreed.
"It cannot be legal for some countries to possess a category of weapons while it is illegal for others to do so. A regime that is based on such inequity cannot be expected to be stable or secure against further proliferation," Subrahmanyam wrote in a recent article for the Arms Control Association.
Perhaps one of the NPT's biggest flaws is the limited power there is to enforce it.
Inspections, carried out by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, are voluntary and countries largely control inspectors' movements.
Furthermore, there are no penalties for breaking the NPT, apart from being reported to the UN Security Council.
Experts acknowledge the NPT's success in curbing the number of states in possession of nuclear weapons.
"In 1960, (US President) John F. Kennedy warned as many as 20 nations could acquire a nuclear weapon in less that decade. They didn't," said Joe Cirincione, President of the Washington-based Ploughshares Fund.
"There are only nine countries with nuclear weapons today. Why? A big part of the reason is the bipartisan, multinational effort that lead to the NPT," Cirincione told AFP.
Thanks to the NPT, "there are now far fewer countries that have nuclear weapons or weapon programmes than there were in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s," the expert said.
Nevertheless, the non-proliferation regime had suffered important setbacks, notably the cases of North Korea and Iran, and more recently Syria.
North Korea developed an illicit nuclear weapons programme, which it is only now in the long and slow process of dismantling.
Iran is accused of pursuing a weapons programme under the guise of peaceful nuclear power and Syria has recently come under fire for allegedly building a covert nuclear facility.
"These recent setbacks are not the fault of the NPT structure, but rather a problem of enforcement and international support," said Cirincione.
"Too often 'realpolitik' will influence decisions like the Indian Nuclear Deal that undermine the treaty. The NPT is very clear. All proliferation is bad, not just proliferation among potential enemies."
Kimball similarly believes the United States is undermining the NPT, not only by repudiating its disarmament commitments, but by seeking to carve out special exemptions from the rules for allies such India.
It was therefore up to the United States to take the lead if the NPT is going to survive, the experts said.
"Most of the 183 non-nuclear nations that have signed the NPT believe what the treaty says: No one should have nuclear weapons. It is time for the United States to mean it, too," said Cirincione.
"The NPT is not doomed to failure," said Kimball.
"But in order to survive well into this century, states must renew, strengthen, and fulfill the NPT bargain -- and soon."
1. Mottaki Says ´┐ŻNew Trend´┐Ż Begun in Iran Nuclear Talks
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Iran, which is considering an incentives offer by world powers to halt its uranium enrichment program, said a ´┐Żnew trend´┐Ż has started in negotiations.
´┐ŻA new trend of change is taking place and it started with Iran putting forward a package,´┐Ż Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
European governments joined the U.S., Russia and China in offering on June 14 a package of economic and technology incentives for Iran in exchange for the suspension of uranium enrichment. The sensitive fuel can be used in a reactor or for building weapons.
´┐ŻImportant issues for talks were mentioned in this package and from the other side the 5+1 group delivered its own offer,´┐Ż Mottaki said yesterday in New York, referring to the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.
Iran has put forward its own proposal to resolve the conflict, diminish the nuclear threat worldwide and improve security in the region. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters on June 14 in Tehran that topics are ´┐Żcompatible´┐Ż in the two packages, yet measures put forward by Iran were ´┐Żnot sufficient.´┐Ż
´┐ŻIran and the 5+1 group's packages have a good work potential,´┐Ż Mottaki said. The parties may ´┐Żpinpoint common points in the two packages and start talks´┐Ż on this basis, Mottaki said, according to IRNA.
While so far rejecting demands to suspend enrichment activities on their soil, Iranian officials have said they are considering the offer handed by Solana last month and will respond in time.
´┐ŻTalks with Solana in Tehran were respectful and slightly different from before and we are reviewing the package seriously, carefully and in a constructive way,´┐Ż Mottaki added.
The proposal supports the construction of a light-water reactor and a guarantee of fuel supply. It also offers to improve Iran's access international markets, support its inclusion in the World Trade Organization as well as the modernization of its agricultural and telecommunication sectors.
Separately, Mottaki dismissed reports speculating about a possible attack by Israel on Iran's nuclear facilities, to abort the country's progress in what Israel says is an atomic weapons program.
The eventuality of Israel entering into a military conflict with Iran ´┐Żis next to zero,´┐Ż Mottaki said in a separate IRNA report.
Israel is increasingly likely to attack this year, a U.S. Defense Department official told ABC News yesterday. Former Israeli Air Force General Isaac Ben-Israel, now a lawmaker in Israel's ruling Kadima party, also told Germany's Der Spiegel yesterday that his nation is ´┐Żprepared´┐Ż for an attack if diplomacy and UN sanctions fail to stop Iran.
1. Verification Will Be the Next Hurdle for the North Korea Nuclear Deal
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In a process marked by setbacks and only partially fulfilled obligations, the denuclearization of North Korea could be entering its most challenging period this summer as U.S. experts sift through thousands of pages of data and finalize painstakingly agreed arrangements on how to verify the secretive North's atomic activities.
Officials have been examining a trove of documents from the North Koreans: almost 19,000 pages of operating records and other information, dating to 1986, on their reactor complex at Yongbyon. U.S. officials say the review has yielded useful data but have not elaborated.
Last week, North Korea submitted a long-awaited declaration of its nuclear activities, and, in response, President Bush moved to end´┐Żnow or in the near future´┐Żcertain sanctions related to North Korea's status as an official adversary and to its past support for terrorism. Those actions shift the focus to nailing down the details of a verification accord that, in theory, would venture more aggressively into the North Korean nuclear program than has ever been done.
Whether North Korea´┐Ża state where concealment and secrecy are normal ways of doing business even in less sensitive policy matters´┐Żis really willing to go the distance on a robust verification scheme remains unclear. But without a credible verification system in place, the emerging nuclear deal is unlikely to garner sufficient political support in the United States, and the ensuing deadlock would leave North Korea in the position of a de facto nuclear weapons power.
"Verification is absolutely key to this whole process," Christopher Hill, an assistant secretary of state and the administration's lead negotiator on North Korea, said Tuesday in Washington. "We're not going to accept North Korea as a nuclear state." Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), he acknowledged that there remains "a lot of work ahead of us."
China, which hosts the six-nation denuclearization process, has said that North Korea and the others have agreed on the principles of a verification regime. Hill on Tuesday cited its key features as access to documents and nuclear sites and the ability to interview personnel in the nuclear program.
A State Department paper last week said there will be a "comprehensive" program that includes "short-notice access to declared or suspect sites related to the North Korean nuclear program, access to nuclear materials, environmental and bulk sampling of materials and equipment, interviews with personnel in North Korea, as well as access to additional documentation and records for all nuclear-related facilities and operations."
Nuclear experts broadly describe those as the correct elements, but there is plenty of skepticism about whether North Korea will accept them in practice.
"We've got to get enough access and cooperation from the North Koreans to see that they've really been transparent," says Jon Wolfsthal, a CSIS senior fellow who was involved in the issue at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration. Then, the task was to attempt to verify a 1994 agreement to freeze North Korea's nuclear program called the "Agreed Framework." Wolfsthal recalls a painfully slow process. "The North Koreans did everything they could to maintain the ambiguity over their program," he says. "It was worse than pulling teeth."
Pyongyang would require negotiations over such seemingly minor technical issues as how many U.S. inspectors would participate in a particular trip and whether U.S. officials could use their own monitoring equipment. "They would nickel and dime us down," he says.
State Department officials say that once verification gets underway, any discrepancies discovered will have to be addressed by North Korea before its nuclear declaration is considered complete. If the process gets that far, the work could extend well into the next president's term in office.
1. US Senator Prepared to Push Indian Nuclear Deal in Congress
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A senior US senator said he would push Congress to adopt a civilian nuclear deal with India if New Delhi was keen to pursue it as reported.
"If these reports are in fact true, and I hope they are, I am committed to work hard in order to get Congress to approve such a deal -- as long as the required steps are taken and if the agreement with the United States meets the requirements of US law," said Democratic Senator Joseph Biden.
India's prime minister Manmohan Singh promised Monday to bring to parliament the nuclear deal, which is fiercely opposed by left-wing parties in his ruling coalition, reports said. He appears ready to risk the collapse of his minority government.
The deal, in which Washington would provide New Delhi with nuclear fuel and technology for the first time in three decades, is being pushed by Singh's dominant Congress party as crucial for India's energy security.
But a grouping of left-wing parties who prop up the government argues it will draw the traditionally non-aligned country too close to Washington.
Biden, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, noted that he had told Singh during a visit to New Delhi in February that "time is running out very quickly."
"Every day without an agreement leaves us fewer legislative days before this Congressional term ends," he said.
US President George W. Bush's administration and the US Congress has warned India about the limited time available for the nuclear deal to be approved by the legislature before Bush leaves the White House in January 2009.
India, a declared nuclear weapons power that refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is currently barred from buying atomic energy technology.
New Delhi needs to negotiate an accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency to allow inspections of its atomic plants and garner a waiver from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group before it can enter the global nuclear trade.
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