PREVIEW-Diplomats see little hope in reviving arms talks

Sun Sep 19, 2010 5:33am EDT

Related Topics

* Pakistan blocking consensus to launch fissile negotiations

* U.S. losing patience, signals may seek another venue

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Nuclear powers and non-nuclear nations are unlikely to ease the deadlock in global disarmament talks next week at a U.N. forum that has failed to achieve any breakthrough for over a decade, diplomats said on Sunday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the ministerial session in New York on Sept. 24 to give political impetus to the Conference on Disarmament, the world's sole multilateral negotiating body which is known as the "CD".

But few people expect the 65-member Geneva forum to move forward on nuclear disarmament, despite endorsements from U.S. President Barack Obama and others for a move toward a nuclear-free world.

"We must not discount the possibility that, without a concerted dose of political will, this institution will atrophy into irrelevance," Laura Kennedy, the U.S. disarmament ambassador, warned in a speech last week.

After its launch in 1978, the CD clinched treaties banning biological and chemical weapons, as well as underground nuclear test blasts, but has been unable to reach the consensus it needs on substantive work for the past 12 years.

Its members include all five official nuclear powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Israel, which is widely assumed to have atomic weapons, and Iran and North Korea whose nuclear programmes are under scrutiny.

Since January Pakistan has blocked a CD consensus to launch negotiations on halting production of nuclear bomb-making fissile material such as highly-enriched uranium and plutonium, citing a need to keep up with its nuclear-armed rival India.

Canadian Ambassador Marius Grinius, who has said the forum is "sleepwalking", bluntly proposed last week that a one-year deadline be imposed for it to produce tangible results.

Others expressed surprise that the successor START treaty reached in April between Russia and the United States to slash their atomic arsenals had not revived momentum in Geneva.

"There is a dynamic surrounding disarmament and non-proliferation, but the CD hasn't taken off. The CD is stuck in the middle of nowhere. It's a real problem," said a Western diplomat who declined to be named. "Nobody sees a way out."

PATIENCE RUNNING OUT

Friday's half-day session in New York is unlikely to yield an agreement to launch the so-called fissile material "cut-off" (FMCT) negotiations, widely seen as the next step in multilateral arms control, according to senior envoys in Geneva.

Instead, support seems to be growing to find another way to tackle the fissile material question, possibly in small-group talks in parallel to the CD sessions.

A precedent was set when Canada and Norway moved talks on a landmine ban out of the forum due to an impasse, eventually clinching the landmark 1997 Ottawa treaty.

"I don't expect there to be a magic bullet that will produce immediate results," one envoy said. "There is no plan to walk away from the CD, but one could consider discussions in tandem."

Washington has previously shown little enthusiasm for ad hoc negotiations on disarmament.

"But after well over a decade of inaction in Geneva, new approaches may be called for," Kennedy said. "Patience is running out for many states, including the United States."

Zamir Akram, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said his country would continue to hold the line, arguing that India now has an unfair advantage with bigger fissile material stockpiles and "discriminatory" nuclear cooperation deals with the United States.

"Pakistan's security concerns can be addressed only once we have developed sufficient capacity to ensure our deterrent is credible in the face of growing asymmetry," he told Reuters. "My instructions are: 'We continue to maintain our position'." (Editing by Laura MacInnis/David Stamp)

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