19 July 2005

Disarmament Commission Holds Organizational Meeting, Reaches Tentative Agreement on Nuclear Disarmament Agenda Item

NEW YORK, 18 July (UN Headquarters) -- In a resumed organizational meeting today, the Disarmament Commission reached agreement “ad referendum” on an agenda item on nuclear disarmament, pending agreement on the rest of the agenda, to be considered tomorrow morning.

“I must be frank, I didn’t expect this”, the newly elected Chairman, Sylvester Rowe (Sierra Leone), said of today’s outcome.  Opening the meeting without an agenda and without a fully constituted Bureau, he said it had appeared that the Commission, a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, was telling the Assembly and the world at large that it might be unable to fulfil its mandate.

Whether or not it agreed on a written agenda for its substantive session, “outside these walls, the disarmament agenda is very much alive”, he said.

Also seeking to encourage agreement, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Nobuyasu Abe recalled the recent deadlock in the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), expressing his deep regret that the Commission was facing the same impasse.  “We cannot afford to be observers; we must be effective decision makers”, he said, adding that “the world around us is certainly not standing still and neither should we”.

Comprising all Member States, the Commission is mandated to have in-depth discussions on specific disarmament issues and make concrete recommendations.  Last year, it had been unable to agree on an agenda, which was to have included an item on nuclear disarmament.  In 2003, following three years of deliberations, it had not been able to conclude its agenda with any specific recommendations.

The last time the Commission reached a consensus conclusion of its work was in 1999 when it agreed on guidelines for the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones and conventional arms control.  That same year, however, it had been unable to reach consensus on the objectives and agenda for a fourth special session of the General Assembly devoted to disarmament.

The Chairman’s proposal, agreed in the last minutes of the meeting today, reads as follows:  “Recommendations for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in all its aspects, in particular for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament”.

The proposal, also of the Chairman, presently being considered for conventional weapons reads, as follows:  “Practical confidence-building measures, including verification mechanisms, in the field of conventional weapons”.

Following protracted discussions this morning on the nuclear disarmament proposal, including clarification of what had occurred during informal consultations on 8 July, the major groups of States finally agreed it was acceptable, as long as it was considered in the wider context of the agenda.  In other words, until formulation of the entire agenda was agreed, a decision to accept the nuclear disarmament proposal should be handled as “ad referendum”.

Saying that the nuclear disarmament agenda item would likely be accepted in Washington, the United States’ representative added that the formulation had to be vetted there, and the question would be asked, “What does the rest of the agenda look like?”  He thought it was possible to make some additional progress, depending on how the formulations of other items turned out.  Specifically, he insisted on consideration of a third item -- an internal review of the Commission.

In other business, the Commission elected Maria Pavlova Tzotzorkova (Bulgaria) as Rapporteur.  It elected Alisher Vohidov (Uzbekistan), as Vice-Chairman.  Previously, at the first part of its organizational meeting on 22 December 2004, Lew Kwang-Chul (Republic of Korea) had also been elected as Vice-Chairman.  It was announced that there are six vacancies remaining in the Bureau.

Speakers in the discussion this morning were from the following delegations:  Indonesia, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement; Russian Federation; Uruguay; Cuba; Egypt; Iran; United Kingdom, on behalf of the European Union; Jordan; Canada; Switzerland; Ukraine; Singapore; Germany; and Syria.

The Disarmament Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow in a resumed organizational meeting.

* *** *