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U.S. abstains from vote on Japan-sponsored antinuclear resolution at U.N. disarmament panel

Kyodo

A Japan-sponsored resolution calling for the total elimination of nuclear arms was passed by a United Nations committee on Thursday, but the United States — a key Tokyo ally — abstained, calling it a “step back” from last year’s document.

The First Committee on Disarmament Issues at the U.N. General Assembly also adopted a resolution calling on member states to ratify a landmark treaty banning nuclear weapons at an early date.

Tokyo has penned and put forward a similar motion calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons for the past 25 consecutive years, with the latest version endorsed by 160 countries — up 16 from last year. Four countries — China, North Korea, Russia and Syria — voted against it, and 24 abstained.

The U.S. abstention came despite Japan again omitting any reference to the nuclear weapons ban treaty in view of its reliance on the U.S. nuclear deterrence.

U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said the current wording — which differed from resolutions of previous years that Washington had backed — was a “return to language that dates from a different time and a different security environment than we currently face.”

The United States has stressed that unspecified conditions must first be met to improve the international security environment before disarmament can take place, a view that stands in opposition to those of many countries.

Japan, the sole country to have suffered the devastation of atomic bombings, this year tried to bridge the gap, reviving past references to consensus agreements reached at the review conferences on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, 2000 and 2010.

Despite those efforts, France and other countries such as Austria, Brazil and Mexico were among those who abstained along with the United States.

In Geneva, Austrian Ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger said the text “deviates from agreed language of NPT review conference consensus documents” and risks “undermining long-standing agreements of the international community on nuclear disarmament.”

In a statement, Foreign Minister Taro Kono hailed the adoption of the motion, saying Tokyo will continue to make efforts to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

The resolution mentions U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s recent visit to Nagasaki, the first to the atomic-bombed city by a sitting U.N. chief, and includes references to developments in North Korea.

While there was no specific mention of the nuclear ban treaty, the text retains its previous wording that acknowledged that “there are various approaches toward the realization of a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Meanwhile, the Austria-led motion urging early ratification of the nuclear ban treaty, adopted last year, was backed by 122 states. All five permanent U.N. Security Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — which all possess nuclear arms opposed the motion along with 36 other nations including Japan and Germany.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted in July 2017, has so far been signed by 69 nations and ratified by 19. It requires ratification by 50 countries before it can enter into force.

The one-page motion welcomes the treaty’s adoption and the ongoing process toward putting it into effect, which kicked off in September last year.

It also encourages countries that have not signed or ratified the pact to do so, as well as to promote adherence to the treaty in bilateral, regional and multilateral forums.

Both resolutions will be put before a plenary session of the General Assembly in December where they are expected to be approved.