2 May 2006

As World Becomes More Dangerous, Disarmament Commission Debate Even More Important, Says Chair, as 3-Week Session Concludes

(Issued on 1 May 2006.)

NEW YORK, 28 April (UN Headquarters) -- As the world became more dangerous and countries acquired ever more powerful weapons, the disarmament community was often frustrated, because it could not do much about those realities, the Disarmament Commission was told today, as it concluded its three-week substantive session with only minor changes in its working methods, amid persistent questions about how, and even whether, it could better fulfil its unique mandate and advance the disarmament agenda.

Commission Chairman, Joon Oh (Republic of Korea), said that, wherever everyone stood on those complex issues, no one could avoid the current realities, namely that there were stockpiles of weapons that could kill us many times over.  Nor could it be ignored that some countries were boosting their military might, while asking others to reduce theirs.  The efforts of the Commission were all the more important because of those realities, and not despite them. 

Recognizing, however, that the current session was the first of a three-year cycle of deliberation on two substantive items -- one on nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation, and a second on confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons -- he said it would be better if full agreement could be reached on how to deal with those critical issues, but barring that the efforts made to narrow the gaps had been invaluable.  Progress, however modest, had been made and a good basis had been laid for the work in 2007 and 2008.

In terms of improving the working methods, members had agreed, among other things, that the chairpersons and vice chairpersons of the Commission and its subsidiary bodies should be elected at an organizational session, if possible, at least three months before the beginning of the substantive session.  Member States were encouraged to adopt the draft agenda of the substantive session as early as possible at the organizational meetings, and to present their national working documents as early as possible before the start of the substantive session, in order to facilitate deliberation in the meetings ahead.

The chairmen of working groups I and II of the current substantive session, Jean-Francis Regis Zinsou (Benin), on the nuclear-related agenda item, and Carlos Sergio Sobral Duarte (Brazil), on the conventional weapons-related item, respectively, presented the reports of their groups, which were only procedural in nature.  No chairman's papers had been consensually agreed during the discussions.

Commission Rapporteur Coly Seck (Senegal) introduced the report of the Commission and read out revisions and amendments.  Members then adopted the report of the Commission, as orally revised.

Summary of Closing Statements

The Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, NOBUAKI TANAKA, said that, after a long impasse, the Commission had been able to hold a substantive session and that had been a good thing.  After all, the objectives of disarmament and non-proliferation were very long-term in nature, and progress was very slow.  The Commission was a deliberative body and it was god for Member States to listen to the views of others.  Even though the improvements in the efficiency of the Commission's working methods were only small steps, he hoped that augured well for future sessions.  It was not easy to restore the mistrust and loss of confidence among Member States, which had ruptured on two important occasions.  There were still some difficulties in advancing the disarmament agenda in the future.  Yet, his Department was totally committed to serving Member States in that pursuit.

Several delegations took the floor to comment on the outcome of the three-week session, which, following a formal exchange of views, had been private plenary discussions and meetings of the working groups. 

Sierra Leone's representative said that the reports just adopted might have been addressed to the members and their Governments, but they would be read by others, who would ask the obvious questions -- and those questions would not be about the number of papers presented, or whether they were working room or conference room papers, whether they would be attached or forwarded or submitted to the General Assembly.  Nor were they interested in the hours worked or the use of definite or indefinite articles, or the fiddling with linguistics -- not amid the ever-present threat of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, and conventional weapons.

Nor would the outsider be particularly interested in hearing, once again, about the function of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, as if, after 24 years, no one knew what that body was about or why it had been established, he said.  The average person, each of whom was a stakeholder in the struggle for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation, would ask what the Disarmament Commission's 2006 session had achieved.  Had it advanced the cause of disarmament and non-proliferation; and had it drawn the world closer to the ultimate objective of general and complete disarmament?  He hoped the papers presented in working groups would be used as a basis for work next year.  "We've only just begun, but we must remember that the threat which we all want to remove -- the threat to humanity still hangs heavily.  In fact, it's increasing over all of us."

On behalf of the European Union, Austria's representative said there had been some agreement to improve the Commission's working methods, and he hoped that would help.  A discussion had restarted after a two-year break in substantive proceedings and, in that sense, "we did get ahead, because talk, we did, certainly".  The Union would like the Commission to fulfil its important role to discuss and evolve concrete recommendations, but given the way the discussion had gone in the past few weeks, he was not convinced that had yet been achieved.  He hoped progress could be achieved when members met next year.

Cuba's representative said he continued to attach the utmost importance to nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.  The documents submitted by the Chairman had embodied certain valid elements, but other aspects of the Chairman's papers to working group I had contained elements that he did not support.  He wished to place on record his reservation to paragraph 19 in document A/CN.10/2006/WP.1/CRP.1/Rev.1*, in which it was asserted that the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) enjoyed full support.  In no way, shape or form was that true.  Cuba, along with other countries, did not support the PSI, which was promoted outside United Nations auspices and contained elements inconsistent with the principles of international law.

As to working group II, he regretted that, given the stance taken by one delegation, there was, annexed to the report, the text prepared by its chairman.  Hopefully, once work was resumed in 2007, that document, together with the comments and proposals thereon by delegations, including his own, would be used as a basis for further discussion.  The Commission had the utmost relevance within the Organization's disarmament machinery, where there was a chance for in-depth deliberation on issues of major implications for all Member States.  He had heard a statement in the General Assembly by a powerful Member State, in the context of the review of mandates, characterizing the Commission as "obsolete" and "irrelevant", and proposing its elimination.  He unambiguously objected to that position.

Speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Indonesia's representative underscored the Commission's importance, as well as that of other multilateral disarmament forums that considered those critical issues in a balanced and comprehensive manner, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.  It was important for all delegations to continue the current deliberations at the next session.  Multilateralism was the only sustainable way to address disarmament and international security issues.  Hopefully, multilateralism within the United Nations framework would provide the necessary impetus for advancing the disarmament agenda in the future.

This year's meeting was "largely superfluous", the representative of the Netherlands asserted, showing again that agreeing on an agenda did not, in any way, mean that progress could be achieved.  He found that meetings like that came close to being "an insult to our taxpayers".  That was in no way due to a lack of effort on the part of the chairs, friends of the chairs, or the Secretariat.  He attached great importance to disarmament and non-proliferation.  At the same time, he would, in the coming year, "consider his presence" at next year's meeting of the United Nations Disarmament Commission.

Japan's representative said he was pleased that consensus had been reached on additional measures for improving the Commission's work.  Deliberations had been able to get off to a good start, and those were a good basis for talks in the next two years.  He had appreciated the Bureau's tireless efforts. 

Reiterating that China had always attached importance to the Commission's role and status, that country's representative said he wished to work with all sides to ensure that the Commission advanced the cause of arms control and disarmament, thereby enhancing peace and stability.  He was sure it could make a greater contribution in that regard.  His delegation would conscientiously study the documents submitted by the chairmen, as well as the delegations' working papers, which should provide a good foundations for upcoming deliberations.

The United States representative said that diplomacy was a political exercise, and multilateral disarmament endeavours needed more individuals like the Chairman -- practical, individualist dealmakers.  Such efforts could do without those enraptured with every dot and title of every text since the cooling of the earth.  It was such rigid zeal, and not a lack of so-called political will, that was eroding the ability of disarmament institutions to fulfil their mandates.  Those organizations were cynically being manipulated and abused for delegations' own devious ends.

He said his delegation regretted that, with dozens of Member States, the Asian Group could identify no Government, other than Iran, for the so-called Asian seat in the Bureau of the Disarmament Commission.  The United States had gone along with that "Kafkaesque" decision for the sake of consensus.  Nonetheless, it remained on the record that this Commission, a body that was supposed to promote nuclear disarmament, had elected as one of its vice-chairs, a Government that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors had found to be out of compliance with both its IAEA and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.  Indeed, the IAEA Board of Governors in February had reported Iran's non-compliance with its treaty obligations to the United Nations Security Council, and Mr. ElBaradei's report to the Security Council had confirmed that Iran continued to refuse to comply with the steps required under the February IAEA decision and the presidential statement that the Council issued on 29 March.

Statements this week by senior Iranian officials, reflected by Iran here in the past three weeks, had indicated continuing defiance by Iran of the will of the international community.  That was "unacceptable behaviour by a rogue regime".  He urged that regime, "even at this eleventh hour", to reverse course and return to compliance with its treaty obligations in the interest of peace and security.  Among other actions, Iran must undertake the complete suspension of its enrichment activities and provide the IAEA with all transparency that the Board had repeatedly requested.

Beyond that, he said, the Disarmament Commission had had a poor record since 2000.  It had not met at all in 2002, and it failed to adopt consensus recommendations in 2003.  It had also failed to adopt an agenda in 2004, and it finally adopted an agenda only in 2005.  This year, delegations had begun to address agreed topics, but regrettably consensus continued to elude them.  That absence of consensus had been most apparent in working group I, where far too many delegations continued to promote falsehoods, dating back decades to a cold war that no longer existed.  International cooperation on disarmament in all its forms could not be enhanced, before Member States agreed to set aside past differences and agreed to work together to address modern threats to peace and security -- chief among them the threats posed by rogue States and the organizations seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, delivery systems and technologies. 

He said that achieving effective nuclear non-proliferation in today's world was an essential element for establishing the international security conditions necessary for the effective pursuit of nuclear disarmament.  He hoped that, upon review of the divergent proposals tabled in working group I, Governments would reflect and make the right decisions concerning the future deliberations on the nuclear agenda item.  He was disappointed that the same delegation that had blocked consensus on the conventional weapons item in 2003, had compounded that issue towards consensus again this year.  But, he was not surprised, since the United States, in 2004, had predicted publicly that the decision to return to the subject would result in the outcome witnessed here this year.

Regrettably, he continued, that delegation did not have the vision to take on board some proposals, such as those circulated by the United States, the European Union and others.  In hindsight, he could only recall the wisdom observed by India's delegation three weeks ago that the 2003 draft document on conventional weapons confidence-building measures contained many items that would not withstand "wholesale amendments" this year.  Member States now had a year to determine whether that could be salvaged, or whether to return to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, he said he was grateful that the Commission had endorsed his proposal that it review its internal workings to see if they could be improved.  In candour, too many delegations seemed unwilling to move beyond resolution 52/492.  Earlier this week, a resolution was tabled in the United States Senate, calling for the United States to withdraw from this Commission and withdraw payments for its support.  He could not speculate on its prospects for passage, but he observed that the activities of the United Nations Disarmament Commission had finally appeared to have captured the attention of the United States Congress.  It had taken Member States three years to arrive at that moment.  Capitals should now reflect on whether the efforts and activities this year merited continued pursuit, or whether the Commission had finally outlived its usefulness.

Iran's representative said that he regretted that the working groups had been unable to attach the Chairman's paper, despite the overwhelming willingness of the overwhelming majority to do so.  That was due to the opposition of the United States delegation.  It was no wonder the United States had been trying, and was trying, to create a smokescreen at this meeting and at others to deflect attention from its poor record on nuclear disarmament.  The 1995 consensus achieved around the principles and objectives of the NPT's indefinite extension had been based on a solemn undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to pursue systematic efforts to reduce and eliminate their nuclear weapons.

He said that the United States, a "self-proclaimed champion of compliance" with the NPT was actually in non-compliance, and he wished to cite a few examples:  the United States had adopted its nuclear posture review, incorporating a breach of obligations on the policy of irreversibility; it had lowered the threshold for the operational status of its nuclear weapons, by stressing their essential role as an effective tool for achieving security and foreign policy objectives; it was developing nuclear weapons systems and constructing new systems for producing nuclear weapons; it was resuming efforts to develop and deploy tactical nuclear weapons, despite commitments to reduce them; and it was targeting non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT, and planning to attack those States.

Continuing, he said that the United States had replaced the principle of destruction, perceived as the most fundamental element in the process of nuclear disarmament, with the process of decommissioning.  Through its unilateral withdrawal, the United States had abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which had been recognized by the international community as the cornerstone of strategic stability.  The United States continued to deploy nuclear forces in other territories, raising serous concerns over the control of such weapons, in clear violation of articles I and II of the NPT.  The United States had also continued to provide a nuclear umbrella for non-nuclear-weapon States parties to the NPT, in flagrant violation of articles I and II, by it and those countries hosting such weaponry.

In 2000, the United States had also signed an agreement of nuclear cooperation with Israel, whose nuclear arsenal posed the gravest danger to the Middle East, thereby demonstrating its total disregard for its obligations under the NPT, he said.  The United States also rejected the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), not only damaging that Treaty's prospects for entry into force, but undermining it in international forums.  In addition, the United States rejected the inclusion of an element of verifiability in a future cut-off treaty on fissile material, thereby breaching the international community's long-standing consensus position in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

He said that the NPT remained the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the ability to develop and pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.  Those three pillars were intertwined and needed to be followed together, without diminishing the significance or effectiveness of any one pillar "against the others".  The Commission should focus on the following areas:  ensuring full universality of the NPT, without a single exception; rejecting any perception and policy anywhere that promoted nuclear weapons as a means of achieving individual and collective security; strengthening collective efforts to check proliferation, either vertical or horizontal; improving IAEA safeguards; emphasizing security assurances for non-nuclear-weapon States, thereby removing nuclear threats; enabling NPT States parties to exercise their full rights to develop and produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, under supervision.

In terms of his election as Vice-Chairman, he said those 45 independent countries were politically mature and wise enough to recognize what was appropriate for them, and they had not needed anybody outside the region to tell them what to do.  On the first day of the substantive session, the Commission had respected the decision of the Asian Group and had elected Iran as Vice-Chair.  That fact was reflected in the official record.  It seemed it had become a "habit" of the United States to first accept a decision in an international forum, and then refuse to comply with it.

If anything was wrong with the Bureau, it was the election of Israel as a Vice-Chairman over the years, as that was a threat to peace and security in the Middle East, he said.  Israel had already violated every single Security Council resolution on the Middle East, and it had constantly refused to denounce nuclear weapons and sign the NPT.  It was worth mentioning that the only obstacle to the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region was Israel's non-adherence to the NPT, and its continued clandestine nuclear facilities, which were unsafeguarded and had the help and technical assistance of the United States.  Israel had paid no attention to the constant international call in different forums, particularly in the 2005 NPT Review Conference, which had called on it by name, to accede to the NPT without conditions.  Israel had also not joined the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions. 

He said it was the Israeli nuclear danger and its missile capability that was a real threat to peace and stability in the region and the world.  Even with those concerns, his delegation had respected the decision of the respective regional group, but it seemed that the United States had employed a double standard.  It seemed to say that Iran, which was a State party to the NPT, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, could not become a Vice-Chair of the Disarmament Commission, but one that had never been a party to those treaties and continued to operate clandestine nuclear facilities could.

Iran was committed to the NPT and the non-proliferation regime and would spare no efforts in that regard, he said.  He drew attention to some reports of the IAEA, which clearly indicated no diversion of his country's uranium enrichment activities, such as document GOV/2003/75 paragraph 52.  The same conclusion could be found in the IAEA's February report, in paragraph 53, which had not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear devices (document GOV/2006/15 paragraph 53). 

Pakistan's representative said his delegation had presented a paper in 2003, and again this year, in good faith.  It had been commented upon, and several elements had been taken on board in the report.  He recognized the right of every delegation to disagree with any comment or working paper, but it was interesting and regrettable that one delegation had also presented a working paper full of several difficult proposals, to put it mildly, for several delegations.  While one delegation had characterized Pakistan as not being helpful in the Commission's work, that same delegation were presenting a paper full of the same difficulties, he said. 

The United States speaker said there was a lot with which he and Iran's speaker differed, and some issues on which he would not comment.  However, some statements were not true and, when it came to issues related to nuclear affairs, as his delegation had stated during the main committee I of the NPT review last year, when individual delegations had made some assertions, they were either ignorant of the facts or liars. 

He said his country had stated publicly and repeatedly, most recently at last year's NPT review, that the United States did not target any non-nuclear-weapon States.  It had also made clear at that time that activities with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners were debated at the time in which the NPT was adopted.  All Governments were aware of that, and activities in which the United States participated were perfectly legal within the Treaty and did not violate articles I and II, as asserted by Iran.  The United States opposed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and would not become a party to it.  And, the only reason the CTBTO PrepCom existed was because the United States participated in 95 per cent of the activities of its international monitoring system, to which it paid in excess of $22 million per year, or 20 per cent of that budget.  Any time any delegation would like the United States to "leave their pristine organization to themselves", all they need to do was ask, and, while he could not make that decision, he would see what he could do. 

On the Vice-Chairmanship, obviously, he said, the United States did not dictate it; Iran was elected, and his delegation had not objected.  "Feel free to take the floor again.  You're just going to look like a fool," he said.  Insofar as Israel was the only obstacle to a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone, everyone knew that was not a factual statement, so he would not belabour it.  That was enough.  He just did not have time to deal with "that kind of stuff". 

Iran's representative, responding to the point that the United States was not targeting non-nuclear-weapon States, said that, on Tuesday, 18 April, in a question-and-answer session at the White House, when asked about United States options regarding Iran, including the possibility of a nuclear strike, and whether the Bush administration was planning such a prospect, President Bush had refused to rule out a United States nuclear strike on Iran, and had replied that all options were on the table.  Such dangerous statements, particularly at present, were widely considered, in political and media circles. to be tacit confirmation of the shocking news that the administration was possibly contemplating a nuclear strike against a non-nuclear-weapon State, namely Iran.

The representative of Israel said that, three weeks ago, he had been encouraged that the Commission had begun dealing with more interesting subjects, particularly the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which was dear to his delegation, to his State, in view of current and emerging threats.  He had been willing to participate in constructive debate on confidence-building measures in conventional weapons, as those were possible ways to achieve peace and security.  He was not surprised that it had turned into a forum of accusations against Israel.  Israel had supported the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) resolution on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, notwithstanding its many reservations on the text.   It supported the zone's eventual establishment and believed it could support the text, and thus joined consensus on it.

There was no doubt, he said, that Israel was committed to the zone's eventual creation, but the unfortunate reality was that Israel lived in a neighbourhood, a region, where the President of Iran was daily calling for the destruction of his country -- calling for wiping Israel off the map, instigating terrorism and denying the Holocaust.  That did certainly not bring anyone closer to considering the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone.  Add to that Iran's violations and its defiance of international demands by the Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors.  He was again surprised that Iran was trying to deflect the main focus of the international community from the real problem, namely Iran's emerging threat to international peace and security arising from its nuclear programme. 

Aside from Iran, there was no other delegation convinced that Iran's face was turned towards peace, he said.  The evidence spoke for itself.  Once again, trying to use common United Nations practices for one's own delegation being elected to a chairmanship and then calling those practices audacious or absurd, when it was to the benefit of another, was certainly not worthy of any reaction from his country.  He also wondered, along with other delegations, whether the Disarmament Commission was a truly valid forum, or just another exchange of accusations against another country, like Israel. 

The United States speaker said the reference to what President Bush had said on 18 April was somehow equated to Columbus' discovery of the new world.  The United States had been consistent about that.  There had been a less reported statement of 18 April, made by the President of Iran, in which he talked about cutting off the hand of any aggressor and placing a sign on their forehead.  In closing remarks by Iran this afternoon about how that Government would spare no effort to promote the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- given Iran's record, on behalf of the international community -- "please, spare us your efforts," he said. 

Iran's representative pointed out that it had not been his delegation that had started this political discussion or dispute, but the United States delegation, which wanted to misuse each and every opportunity to pursue its political objective, even in this multilateral forum.  In the last 250 years, Iran had never threatened any country.  Some remarks had been taken out of context and misused in the politically motivated propaganda supported by United States and Israel, as a mean for pursuing some other hidden agenda of those two regimes, he said.

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