25 July 2005

No Agreement in Disarmament Commission on Provisional Agenda for 2006 Substantive Session as Delegate Proposes Amendment to Key Item

Members to Meet Again in Resumed Organizational Meeting on 25 July

NEW YORK, 22 July (UN Headquarters) -- In the final hour of a week in which agreement appeared to have been reached on a provisional agenda for the 2006 substantive session of the Disarmament Commission, that agreement collapsed after a delegation proposed an amendment to the first agenda item -- on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Calling Commission Chairman Sylvester Rowe (Sierra Leone) a true bridge builder, the United States delegate said the pace of work this week had been impressive and encouraging, and even surprising in some quarters.  He was pleased to report that his capital had concurred with the spirit of reviving the Commission from its long period of inactivity.  He was also pleased to report that most of the Commission’s work in the past intense week had been reviewed “very favourably” by senior authorities because the topics identified by the Commission as important were worthy of consideration.

He said, however, that after careful review, there was a desire in the capital to streamline the language of the first agenda item as follows:  “Recommendations for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons”.  The United States felt very strongly that that “minor alteration” of the text did not fundamentally alter the character of “the bargain we are close to making”, but instead preserved the key objectives and gave deference to the views of all States.  Agreement could still be reached, and the Commission could still be revived and engage in dialogue on important matters, contributing to international peace and security.

When the draft report containing the previously agreed package of decisions for next year’s agenda was before delegations yesterday, the first agenda item had read, 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 United States proposal sought to conclude that text at the end of the words, “nuclear weapons”.

Today’s outcome, which followed two suspensions of the meeting and several interventions that had led the Chairman to conclude simply that delegations did not wish to discuss the amendment, it was agreed that the organizational meeting would resume on Monday afternoon.  Delegations would then have before them a further revised draft report of the Chairman reflecting today’s development.

The Chairman added that, although he did not wish to open any “Pandora’s box” or create any more problems, if the Commission wished to go beyond Monday to discuss a procedural matter or even to revisit the issue of the amendment, he had no problem with that, but his feeling was that “we’ve reached a point and we have to face it, and the Chair could not be asked to bell the cat”.

Delegations reacted similarly around the conference room.  Speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, Indonesia’s representative expressed regret about the introduction of a new amendment, saying it had not streamlined the language or shortened the sentence.  It had a very far-reaching implication, which altered the nature of the agenda item.

Egypt’s representative said that Wednesday’s agreement had not been premature, but had consumed a lot of time and effort.  He had left the meeting on Wednesday with a clear understanding that there was an agreement.  The situation now led to a very simple conclusion -- that the real problem with the disarmament machinery, including the Disarmament Commission, was not actually the ineffectiveness of its working methods, but the lack of political will, commitment and transparency.

Similarly, Cuba’s representative said he did not understand the wishes of the delegation that had sought to rationalize or simplify the issue of nuclear disarmament.  He was unclear about the delegate’s arguments in seeking to delete half of the wording that had been agreed, which essentially reflected a priority objective in the area of disarmament and was precisely in harmony with the decisions taken by the General Assembly concerning the Commission.

Noting that everyone had come a long way to reach the package of decisions, Iran’s representative said that any change meant that it would no longer be a package, especially when such a drastic change would alter the whole meaning of the first agenda item.  He had had the bitter experience last year of spending the entire substantive session discussing agenda items and waiting a long time for instructions from one capital; he had experienced the same situation this year -- spending hours and hours waiting for such an instruction.

Uganda’s representative said it had appeared there was a good package and he had waited for it, but the package never came.  There were better ways of “arm twisting” than what had been witnessed.  The timing of the proposed amendment was “suspect”, and the Commission was urged to avoid creating such precedents, or such things could crop up in the eleventh hour whenever a delegation was not comfortable with a certain position.  Agreement had been within sight but now agenda item 1 was gone.

Encouraging discussion of the amendment, Grenada’s representative asked what forces outside the room would make of the Commission’s potential failure.  The argument that would likely be made by the “right wing press” was that an important delegate had made a proposal for an amendment and the Disarmament Commission had refused to discuss it.  He asked the United States delegate to consider preparing a simple paragraph for Monday that would explain his Government’s argument for an amendment that he himself had said would make no operational difference or really change the agenda item in any way.

The Disarmament Commission will meet again at 3 p.m. on Monday, 25 July, in a resumed organizational meeting to consider the adoption of its draft report.

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