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US, Pak face off over N cutoff treaty

world Updated: Aug 05, 2011 02:08 IST

The Obama administration is leading a new push for negotiations on a global treaty halting production of nuclear bomb material, a move further aggravating tensions with Pakistan, which has blocked the start of talks.

The U.S. won support for the action from China and three other declared nuclear-weapons powers — France, Russia and Britain — during a meeting June 30-July 1 in Paris. The group is seeking agreement, by September's start of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York, on a way of starting talks on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT).

The treaty has been stalled in the Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Disarmament for 12 years, where Pakistan has become the sole holdout against negotiations.

"Our preference is to negotiate an FMCT within the Conference on Disarmament, but that body has been deadlocked by Pakistan,” undersecretary of state Ellen Tauscher told Commonwealth Club audience July 28 in Lafayette, California, near San Francisco. "Thus, the United States is joining with other key countries to start preparations for a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty elsewhere until the conference can get down to work."

The manoeuver may allow president Barack Obama to make progress on one item of his nuclear arms control agenda while Russia and the U.S. political calendar hinder progress on others.

Pakistan's acting representative to the U.N., Raza Bashir Tarar, last week told a General Assembly meeting in New York on the impasse that he would "strike a note of caution against taking" the treaty talks outside the Conference on Disarmament.

"Pakistan will not join any such process nor would it consider accession to the outcome of any such process," Tarar said. The 65-member Conference on Disarmament "cannot negotiate through cherry picking issues that some states consider to be ripe." Pakistan's objections reflect its existential fear of nuclear archrival India, which has enough plutonium for about 140 bombs, according to the Washington-based Arms Control Association. Pakistan has enough plutonium and uranium for 100 bombs, according to the ACA.

"The CD's work or inactivity is a reflection of prevailing political realities," Tarar said. "No treaty can be negotiated in the CD which is contrary to the security interests of any of its member state."

Pakistan's opposition to taking negotiations outside the Conference on Disarmament have become irrelevant because it has blocked the start of talks anyway, said Daryl Kimball, the Arms Control Association's executive director.

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