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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2003

U.N. confab reps harp on Pyongyang threat


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Delegates to a United Nations conference on disarmament are warning that the security situations involving North Korea and Iraq are threatening to undo more than four decades of arms control.

The four-day United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues opened Tuesday in Osaka.

"The future of arms control is seriously threatened by Iraqi noncompliance with its disarmament obligations and North Korea's breach of nonproliferation obligations," said Nobuyasu Abe, United Nations undersecretary general for disarmament affairs.

Abe made the remarks during the opening address to nearly 200 U.N. delegates, foreign affairs officials, think tank and university experts and members of the general public.

Since 1968, the primary international legal instrument to check the spread of nuclear weapons and materials has been the U.N. Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which has been signed by 189 countries.

But some participants were pessimistic about the effectiveness of the NPT. They noted events over the past several years, such as the refusal of Israel, India and Pakistan to sign the NPT despite having nuclear weapons programs, and the developments in Iraq and North Korea.

"The NPT is in trouble," said Yasushi Akashi, chairman of the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention.

Several delegates expressed concern over next week's six-nation conference in Beijing, which will focus on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. They warned against any quick-fix agreement that would allow North Korea to do no more than fulfill its NPT obligations.

"Proliferation concerns can't be resolved by North Korea's full compliance with its NPT obligations. It will take a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the entire weapons program, including their enrichment and reprocessing facilities," Akashi said.

Chun Yung-woo, South Korea's ambassador to the U.N., said, "North Korea must voluntarily cooperate to go beyond the NPT. This is why all diplomatic routes should be pursued before resorting to U.N. Security Council action."

Another delegate said it is imperative that the International Atomic Energy Agency, not a few individual nations, take the lead to ensure that North Korea dismantles its weapons program.

"In any agreement reached in Beijing, there needs to be an explicit provision for an international, not bilateral, implementation of safeguards," said Tariq Rauf, who is in charge of the verification and security policy coordination at the IAEA.

One notable recent success was mentioned. Five central Asian nations -- Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- are expected to reach agreement this year on a treaty that would make central Asia free of nuclear weapons.



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