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At nuclear conference, U.S. expects little, gains little
Still, U.S. officials appeared frustrated that the Obama administration did not get more credit for its record. It has signed a new arms-reduction treaty with Russia, hosted a 47-nation summit on nuclear security and lessened the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy.
"The disarmament stuff Obama did, they just pocketed," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. Non-nuclear countries, he said, "didn't give anything back."
Egypt's U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdel Aziz, who led the powerful 118-member non-aligned group, disagreed. He said non-nuclear countries ultimately dropped their demands for faster disarmament.
"We like Obama's ideas. We will make the first concessions," he said in an interview. "But we will see what is going to come."
His comments reflected skepticism among countries about how much Obama will achieve. The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia has not been ratified, and Obama faces an uphill battle in winning Senate approval of a separate pact banning nuclear tests worldwide.
Aziz said non-nuclear countries are still smarting over the George W. Bush administration's decision to sell civilian nuclear technology to India, which hasn't signed the nonproliferation treaty. Obama voted for that deal as a senator.
"If you say countries outside the treaty are going to get . . . even more benefits than countries inside the treaty, than what is the benefit for me to bind myself with more [nonproliferation] restrictions?" Aziz asked. U.S. officials said they would continue to pursue tougher nuclear controls in more favorable venues, such as the U.N. Security Council and the IAEA.
Even before the conference started, the Obama administration "trimmed their sails on what they expected to get out of it. The main thing at this point was not to undercut their agenda going forward," said Miles Pomper, a nuclear policy expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
Not that the conference lacked for drama. Many diplomats expected the U.S. delegation would kill the final document because of the mention of Israel.
When the United States accepted it, the Iranian delegation was so surprised that it asked for a four-hour postponement of the final session so that members could call their government, diplomats said.
The Iranians finally agreed to the text, recommitting themselves -- at least verbally -- to the treaty's rules.
The adoption of a document "provides less excuse for people who would like this [treaty] to go off the tracks," the U.S. official said.