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Monday, May 3, 2010

UN chief seeks pledge to scrap nuclear weapons

UNITED NATIONS : UN chief Ban Ki-moon Monday urged nuclear weapons states to reaffirm unequivocally a vow to scrap atomic weapons at the start of a conference to review global efforts to check their spread.

"I urge nuclear weapon states to reaffirm the 'unequivocal undertaking' to eliminate nuclear weapons. Failure to do so would be a step backward," he told signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were also later Monday to address the conference to review the NPT attended by delegates from 150 nations.

The review conference, which is held every five years, comes 40 years after the landmark NPT came into force and aims to discuss how to further the treaty's full implementation and universality.

The focus in more than three weeks of discussions will be on the treaty's three main pillars: non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In his speech, Ban appealed to those states which have not yet acceded to the 1970 landmark treaty to do so "as soon as possible."

"Pending their accession, there is a need for measures to ensure the safety and security of those countries' arsenals and technology," Ban told the conference, which lasts until May 28.

"Nuclear materials must not be acquired by non-state actors and terrorists," he said.

The NPT, the cornerstone of the global non-proliferation regime, is built on a grand bargain.

The five original nuclear weapon states -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- pledged to move towards disarmament. Non-weapon states foreswore the bomb in return for access to peaceful nuclear energy.

But since the treaty came into force in 1970, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have all acquired a nuclear weapons capability. A total 190 countries have signed the treaty, including North Korea which however withdrew from it in 2003.

"The time has come to think very seriously about setting a timeframe for ratification," Ban said. "How long must we wait? We need to consider an alternative mechanism for bringing the treaty into effect."

Ban also called on Iran to fully comply with UN Security Council resolutions enjoining it to halt uranium enrichment and to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency to reassure the world about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.

He pressed Tehran to accept a nuclear fuel swap proposed by the IAEA, saying "this would be an important confidence-building measure."

World powers are at loggerheads over a UN-drafted proposal for the supply of nuclear fuel for a Tehran research reactor in exchange for the Islamic republic's stocks of low-enriched uranium.

But the deal has stalled as Iran insists the exchange of the two materials take place simultaneously and within its borders, a condition rejected by world powers.

The stalemate over the deal has led Washington, already angered with Tehran's overall nuclear program, to step up global efforts for new UN sanctions against Iran.

Iran and many non-aligned nations however argue the NPT is discriminatory, dividing the world into an elite of nuclear haves lording over second-class nuclear have-nots.

The UN boss also called for "measures to ensure the safety and security of those countries' arsenals and technology. Nuclear materials must not be acquired by non-state actors and terrorists."

And he expressed strong support for efforts to create a nuclear-free Middle East, noting that "nuclear-weapon-free zones make significant contributions to disarmament and non-proliferation" and "build confidence that can lead to progress in other areas."

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