Conferees call for unity on nonproliferation


SAITAMA — Ongoing discussions and a more muscular nuclear nonproliferation treaty are vital to achieving progress in disarmament efforts, speakers and participants at a U.N. conference in Saitama agreed Friday.

“It is encouraging to know that work is continuing at all levels” on disarmament issues, including within governments and the academic world, Hannelore Hoppe, director and deputy to the high representative for the U.N. disarmament office, said, adding that the effort must continue and be reflected at the 2010 conference to review the NPT.

The three-day meeting, organized by the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs and the U.N. Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, kicked off a day after North Korea announced it had suspended its denuclearization process and threatened to restore a reactor in Yongbyon.

Speakers at the conference voiced concern that the standoff with the North may even encourage other countries to pursue atomic technology and weapons, and urged that the six-party talks remain the key vehicle for defusing Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.

All parties concerned must immediately “sit together and try to work and find common understanding and mutual support,” said Kai Chen, director of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, calling for the world to unite behind the cause.

Speakers also called for measures to secure and safeguard nuclear technology, as climate issues and rising energy prices boost the world’s dependency on atomic power.

Sounding a cautionary note, a director from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that disarmament, while a valuable goal, will only be possible when specific conditions such as strategic stability are met.

“The recent development in South Ossetia shows that the world is not ready for strategic stability,” Vladimir Yermakov, director of the Strategic Capabilities Policy of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told the meeting.

Defending Moscow’s occupation of Georgia, Yermakov said his country was being treated as the aggressor despite trying to halt genocide in the region.

“In order to move toward disarmament, we should find what was the basis for the arms races. We should somehow eliminate what really makes nations arm,” he said.

Jon Wolfsthal, a senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, countered that regional security and Russia’s position in the world “will be compromised” as long as Russian troops continue to occupy Georgian soil.

The annual U.N. meeting on disarmament, which has been held in Japan since 1989, draws government officials from 17 countries and delegates from international organizations.