Anger as CND member leads UK delegation at nuclear talks

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The Government was accused of "going soft" on defence last night after Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister, was revealed as the first CND member to represent Britain in nuclear disarmament talks.

Mr Hain, who described the criticism as "a desperate smear", will lead negotiations on behalf of the United Kingdom at the United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York next month. The Foreign Office confirmed that neither Tony Blair nor Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, were scheduled to attend and that Mr Hain was attending as the chief minister on non-proliferation.

Unlike many New Labour MPs and ministers, Mr Hain has maintained his membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But Tories have attacked his role as "disgraceful" and claimed the Foreign Office was seeking to usurp the Ministry of Defence's role in UK policy on nuclear deterrence.

Mr Hain told The Independent last night that the Tory attack was "pathetic". "The fact that I happen to be a passive CND member doesn't at all conflict with my own strong commitment to the Government's agenda," he said.