NEW YORK - Negotiations on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons began Monday at the U.N. headquarters without Japan, as the world’s only atomic-bombed country said it would abstain from the talks alongside the five major nuclear powers.
The decision triggered criticism and disappointment from survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who saw the first-ever U.N. talks on the treaty as a step toward pursuing a world free of nuclear weapons.
“Regrettably, given the present circumstances, we must say that it would be difficult for Japan to participate … in a constructive manner and in good faith,” disarmament ambassador Nobushige Takamizawa said during the opening segment of the conference. “We will continue to pursue realistic and effective disarmament measures and will work to create a security environment conducive to the elimination of nuclear weapons.”
In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the talks are unrealistic without the participation of major nuclear weapon states amid the growing nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
The negotiations that began in New York overnight “not only do not realistically help create a world without nuclear weapons but could also further deepen the rift between nuclear and nonnuclear-weapon states and cause an adverse effect,” Kishida told reporters.
Japan has said it aspires to a world without nuclear weapons but has been vague about whether it will join the U.N. talks, reflecting its reliance on the U.S. nuclear deterrent for protection.
The first round of negotiations will run through Friday, with the second taking place from June 15 through July 7. Both sessions will be held at U.N. headquarters.
Toshiki Fujimori, assistant secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, an organization for atomic bomb victims, also addressed the delegates as a Hiroshima hibakusha. He was little more than a year old when the bomb exploded over his city on Aug. 6, 1945.
“The treaty you will be negotiating today must reflect this call of hibakusha in clear terms so that the world makes remarkable progress toward nuclear weapons abolition,” he said.
While he and other atomic bomb survivors back the U.N. efforts to negotiate the landmark treaty, he expressed disappointment with Tokyo for not endorsing the move.
“As a hibakusha, and as a Japanese person, I am here today heartbroken, yet I am not discouraged,” he said. He pointed to the positive work being undertaken by a majority of countries, international organizations and civil society who are pressing for the treaty despite opposition.
A total of 113 counties supported the start of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban treaty at the U.N. General Assembly in December. Nongovernmental organizations estimated on Monday that 115 nations were present for the conference.
Austria and other nonnuclear countries that have strongly pursued the start of negotiations are aiming to draft a treaty by July.
Of the five major states possessing nuclear weapons, the United States, Britain, France and Russia are vehemently opposed. China recently decided not to participate in the talks after weighing the possibility of joining them.
It remains to be seen whether the negotiations will lead to any tangible nuclear disarmament as the new U.S. administration of President Donald Trump has signaled a review of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons, which was advocated by the Barack Obama administration.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, along with representatives of about 20 other nations, spoke against the treaty outside the General Assembly hall in an unusual move timed to coincide with the start of the conference.
“As a mom, as a daughter, there is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic,” she said. “Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons? So what you would see is the General Assembly would go through, in good faith trying to do something, but North Korea would be the one cheering and all of us and the people we represent would be the ones at risk.”
Britain and France also delivered brief remarks echoing Haley’s sentiment and endorsing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the way forward.