For information only - not an official document.
24 January 2001


NEW YORK, 23 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of a message from Secretary- General Kofi Annan to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. The message was delivered at the Conference, opening today, on the Secretary-General’s behalf, by Vladimir Petrovsky, Director- General of the United Nations in Geneva:

The Conference on Disarmament is a unique forum for multilateral disarmament negotiations. And you are opening your 2001 session at a unique time in multilateral diplomacy. At last year's Millennium Summit, Member States reaffirmed their commitment to the goals and principles of the United Nations Charter, and their resolve to act on the most pressing challenges of our age. The Millennium Declaration spelled out the need to work for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction -- particularly nuclear weapons -- and for an end to the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons. The Declaration of the Security Council’s Summit stressed the critical importance of disarmament in the context of post-conflict situations.

Also last year, the States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons adopted by consensus -- for the first time in 15 years -- a final document on the Treaty’s implementation. Further progress was achieved in the negotiations on a verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. The Second Meeting of States Parties to the mine-ban convention, and the Second Annual Conference of States Parties to Amended Protocol II to the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons, gave new impetus to efforts to eliminate landmines and to mitigate their tragic effects. And preparations for the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects entered a crucial stage.

And yet, in that same millennium year, the Conference on Disarmament was once again unable to reach consensus on a comprehensive programme of work. Persistent disagreement on priorities prevented you from agreeing on appropriate mechanisms to deal with both nuclear disarmament and the prevention of an arms race in outer space. There was no progress in negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Overall, the lack of consensus led to a stalemate which is a source of considerable concern to me and an indication that this conference has been unable to live up to its full potential.

We must take firm and concerted action to overcome this state of affairs. We must work for a political climate conducive to the full use of this Conference as a negotiating forum. This requires restoring a necessary degree of harmony among the main players. Only then will the Conference be able to strike the right balance between the disarmament priorities of all Member States -- in particular those related to consolidation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime and to the process of nuclear disarmament -- while preserving and enhancing strategic stability.

I would urge all members of the Conference to consider the many intellectual and political resources at your disposal. You remain the single multilateral disarmament negotiating body of the international community. No other forum has so many disarmament experts and such accumulated knowledge in this field. Your members include 15 States that maintain missions dealing exclusively with disarmament and headed by ambassadors for disarmament. Your representative membership puts you in the unique and privileged position of negotiating outcomes that could be truly universally adhered to and effectively implemented.

The first task before you as you open this session, therefore, is to overcome the disturbing lack of political will that prevents you from making full use of those resources. Last year, the Conference did make commendable progress in developing consensus on the appropriate mechanisms to deal with two outstanding issues: nuclear disarmament and prevention of an arms race in outer space. I urge you to follow up on this process with determination. I urge you to use it to build a critical mass of political will that could trigger agreement on a workable and balanced programme of work addressing the priorities and concerns of all States. I am convinced that if you adopt a results-based approach, you will succeed. Such an approach has already proved effective in many areas, including some related to disarmament. It has also been a cornerstone of the process to strengthen the United Nations as a whole.

For my part, I pledge that the United Nations will do all it can to support the endeavours of the Conference. I add the hope that in this year of 2001, we will move from words to deeds and see the results of a truly productive and successful session.

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