SAITAMA (Kyodo) About 85 government officials, academic experts and civic group representatives from 18 countries gathered in Saitama to discuss concrete steps toward a nuclear-free world in a three-day U.N. meeting on nuclear disarmament that started Wednesday.

The U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues, which has been held annually in Japan since 1989, opened with speeches by Sergio Duarte, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, and Koichi Takemasa, state secretary for foreign affairs, on promoting nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.

Durante said the timing of the Saitama conference that followed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s “historic” visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier in the month “could hardly be better.”

“I believe the year 2010 will mark a turning point in the history of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation — these issues are certainly back on the global agenda and are viewed by increasing numbers of states as matters of some urgency,” he said.

The Saitama meeting will examine progress in the area of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation by looking back on the outcome of such events as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference and the Nuclear Security Summit earlier this year and also take up regional issues, including the North Korean nuclear threat and Iran’s atomic ambitions.

Takemasa said the government is eager to spearhead international efforts to promote nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation by advocating concrete steps toward a nuclear-free world, such as cutting nuclear arsenals and de-emphasizing the role of atomic weapons.

Asako Toyoda, deputy mayor of Hiroshima, said her city aims to achieve a world completely free of nuclear weapons by 2020 so as many A-bomb survivors as possible can see the total elimination of nuclear arms in their lifetimes.

She said political will is required to give further momentum to a global movement toward a nuclear-free world and Japan should lead that drive.

The conference, hosted by the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific, is held every year in Japan.

This year’s meeting, which continues until Friday, is the 22nd conference.

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