* U.S. sees chance to strengthen nonproliferation
* Breaking, quitting NPT should draw tougher sanctions
* Disarmament conference head hopes political signals heeded
By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA, Aug 12 (Reuters) - States that break or leave the treaty preventing the spread of nuclear weapons should face tougher sanctions than at present, the top U.S. nonproliferation official said on Wednesday.
Susan Burk said the world now had a real opportunity to strengthen the regime enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and President Barack Obama’s administration was determined to make an ambitious effort to do so.
Burk pointed to the sale of sensitive nuclear technology by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan — the father of his country’s nuclear programme which is not governed by the NPT; North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty as it pursued a nuclear weapons programme; violations of the treaty by Iran and North Korea; and Syria’s construction of a covert nuclear reactor.
Such actions had created the perception in some that the treaty was doomed to collapse, she said in a lecture to the Geneva Center for Security Policy.
"That is a view that is wrong and must be refuted," said Burk, U.S. special representative for nuclear nonproliferation.
Burk said it was not enough to detect violations, and noncompliance must be met with real consequences.
"The record in this area in the past has been poor, and it is imperative that the international community produce the necessary political will to halt this dangerous problem," she said.
Burk said countries had the right to leave the treaty, which now has almost 190 members, but remaining parties needed to make good use of the notice period to consider the impact of a withdrawal on functioning of the nonproliferation regime.
A review of the NPT in New York next May should examine this issue in the light of Obama’s call last May for "consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the Treaty without cause", she said.
The treaty limits the official nuclear powers to five — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China.
"The basic bargain is sound: countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them, and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy," Obama said in April, when he committed the United States to seeking a world without nuclear weapons.
Burk’s speech capped a day of activity in disarmament diplomacy.
Earlier Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi — in contrast to Burk’s call for tougher action against treaty violators — said the international community should use peaceful diplomatic means to deal with any efforts by Iran and North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons. [ID:nLC499720]
Yang, speaking at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, called for a quick start at the forum to talks on a treaty to halt production of the fissile material — enriched uranium and plutonium — used to make nuclear weapons.
The 65-member conference, the world’s only multilateral disarmament forum, agreed in May on a work programme after a 12-year deadlock, but on Monday it became clear that Pakistan, an ally of China, wanted to reopen that deal.
Pakistan insisted on Wednesday it wanted to end nuclear weapons but said the "legitimate security interests of all states" had to be protected in any new talks at the conference. [ID:nLC640369]
Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the Russian diplomat who is secretary-general of the disarmament conference, told the Geneva Center after Burk’s lecture that he shared her assessment of renewed momentum in disarmament talks and the conference had now received plenty of political signals to advance.
"We hope that these signals will be heard by everybody, every delegation," he said in a clear reference to Pakistan. (Editing by Tim Pearce)