By Mary Beth Sheridan and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 24, 2009
President Obama will use the forum of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday to press his efforts to slow the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce global stockpiles.
Diplomats have finished negotiating a Security Council resolution that affirms many of the steps Obama plans to pursue as part of his vision for an eventual "world without nuclear weapons." They include a new worldwide treaty halting production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium and the strengthening of the global Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has controlled the spread of nuclear weapons for decades but now is in danger of fraying.
The session of the Security Council, whose rotating chair is held this month by the United States, will occur alongside a two-day U.N. conference that will strongly push for a worldwide ban on nuclear tests, officials said. For the first time in a decade, a U.S. delegation will attend the biennial U.N. session on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has been ratified by 150 countries but lacks the support of nine critical governments, including several declared and undeclared nuclear powers. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is leading the delegation, is expected to commit the U.S. government to trying to ratify the treaty, which was defeated in the U.S. Senate in 1999.
Obama's agenda marks a sharp departure from the policies of President George W. Bush, who was generally skeptical of the reliability and value of arms-control treaties. Obama has said the new approach is necessary because rogue states and terrorists are trying to acquire nuclear bombs, and the spread of nuclear technology could set off arms races in volatile regions such as the Middle East.
Jeffrey G. Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the New America Foundation, said the U.N. resolution would represent significant international support for Obama's nonproliferation agenda, which was first outlined in a speech in Prague in April.
"It's great for the president to go and give the speech. It's a heck of a lot more powerful if the other countries with nuclear weapons . . . say, 'Okay, it's also the direction we wish to go,' " Lewis said.
But weeks of haggling over the resolution revealed persistent differences among U.N. members. China and Russia objected to explicit mentions of Iran as a state suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons, a charge the country denies, and North Korea, which has developed nuclear weapons in defiance of U.N. sanctions, diplomats said. Instead, the measure refers to them indirectly by citing references to U.N. sanctions against both countries, according to a draft of the text.
And countries belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement have objected to the resolution's insistence that nuclear violators be brought to the attention of the Security Council, diplomats said. Under current practice, countries that ignore their nonproliferation obligations are first referred to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which can then bring the matter before the council. White House officials said the language would give the Security Council more authority to enforce compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Critics say the Obama administration is placing too much hope in treaties that may not win sufficient ratifications for years and may not be fully verifiable.
"They are overselling this, overselling how likely it is to come into force, and how likely it is to be beneficial if it did," said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.
Administration officials said they hope to secure a unanimous vote on the resolution. U.S. officials were also seeking the possibility of a "presidential resolution," diplomats said, which would be co-sponsored by all 15 members of the Security Council and would be symbolically stronger.
Gaining Senate ratification of the Test Ban Treaty will be critical to Obama's agenda, and diplomats including Ellen O. Tauscher, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, will use the U.N. conference to develop a diplomatic strategy to get other holdouts to soften their opposition, officials said.
"Other countries have said, if we ratify, they'll ratify," said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Such promises could make it easier to convince skeptics in the U.S. Senate that voting for the treaty is worthwhile, officials say.
Indonesia has pledged to ratify the treaty if the United States does so, and China could quickly follow suit, according to analysts. Other holdouts include Egypt, Israel, India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.
North Korea conducted a nuclear test this year and is considered unlikely to approve the pact anytime soon. Iran has signed the treaty but has not ratified it.
Supporters of the treaty say that by ratifying it, the United States could help isolate and increase pressure on countries that don't do so.
"We are not going to be able to credibly call on other states to take on additional nonproliferation responsibilities if we don't fulfill what other states consider U.S. disarmament commitments," said Darryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association.
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Staff writer Michael D. Shear at the United Nations contributed to this report.