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Ban to try to revive disarmament negotiations

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited ministers from the 192 UN member states to a meeting in September to revitalise UN disarmament negotiations which have been deadlocked for more than a dozen years, UN officials said on Wednesday.

world Updated: Jul 22, 2010 09:54 IST

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited ministers from the 192 UN member states to a meeting in September to revitalise UN disarmament negotiations which have been deadlocked for more than a dozen years, UN officials said on Wednesday.

The UN chief has been frustrated by the inaction of the Conference on Disarmament, which is supposed to be the UN's main disarmament negotiating body. It has been stalemated since it wrote the nuclear test ban treaty in 1996 because its actions require agreement of all 65 nations that are members.

With many ministers expected for this year's high-level General Assembly session, Ban decided to hold a meeting on the sidelines on Sept. 24 to discuss ways to try to break the disarmament logjam, the UN officials and a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no public announcement has been made.

The secretary-general said in his opening speech to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference in May that he wanted the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiations immediately on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials, highly enriched uranium and plutonium needed to produce nuclear weapons. Ban said "it may need stronger impetus from a higher political level" and suggested a possible ministerial meeting on the margins of the General Assembly in September.

In its final document on May 29, the 189 nations that are parties to the NPT called for the Conference on Disarmament to begin work on a fissile material cutoff treaty and on "effective international arrangements" to assure non-nuclear weapon states that nuclear weapons won't be used against them.

"The review conference invites the secretary-general of the United Nations to convene a high-level meeting in September 2010 in support of the work of the Conference on Disarmament," the document said.

What the September 24 meeting will agree to, or lead to, is uncertain, but the UN officials and Western diplomat said the Conference on Disarmament needs reform. Any reform would also affect the 192-member UN Commission on Disarmament, where disarmament issues are supposed to be discussed, they said.

One possibility is that the meeting could decide to appoint experts to propose reforms that would be incorporated into a General Assembly resolution, the diplomat said.

Because of the "consensus" requirement, any member country can block action in the Conference on Disarmament, as Pakistan has done on the fissile material treaty, the UN officials said. Ban has warned that because of this requirement the Conference on Disarmament is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Recent treaties on land mines and cluster munitions, for example, were negotiated outside the Geneva-based conference to bypass the bottleneck.

The Western diplomat said the conference's inaction is also costly, about $500,000 a year for a dozen years of producing nothing.