Outdated nuclear treaty is a threat to us all, warns Annan

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The Independent US

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, warned yesterday that the cornerstone international treaty curbing the spread of nuclear weapons was in urgent need of repair, if it was to keep pace with globalisation and the advance of atomic technology.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, warned yesterday that the cornerstone international treaty curbing the spread of nuclear weapons was in urgent need of repair, if it was to keep pace with globalisation and the advance of atomic technology.

Mr Annan delivered his bleak warning as delegates from more than 180 countries began a conference at the UN in a bid to strengthen the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The month-long review comes at a time of rising tensions, spurred by North Korea's suspected development of a nuclear weapon, and Iran's apparent pursuit of such arms.

Warning of a possible nuclear calamity in a major city, he said that in an interconnected world, "a threat to one is a threat to all, and we all share responsibility for each other's security." The plain fact was "that the regime has not kept pace with the march of technology and globalisation, and developments of many kinds in recent years have placed it under great stress." Mr Annan said that all countries, nuclear and non-nuclear powers, had to play their part. Russia and the US ­ accounting for more than 90 per cent of the estimated 17,000 nuclear warheads in the world ­ should cut their arsenals "so that warheads number in the hundreds, not in the thousands".

For Iran, engaged in delicate ands fitful negotiations with the EU to freeze its uranium enrichment programme, Mr Annan had the message that it should "not insist" on manufacturing nuclear fuel domestically, but acquire it from multilaterally controlled agencies. All countries, he said, must work "towards a world of reduced nuclear threat."

But his words may fall on deaf ears. The conference began without an agreed agenda, while Iran and the US were on a collision course, as Tehran prepared to reject demands to dismantle its nuclear power programme, arguing its purposes were peaceful.

In a speech scheduled for today, Kamal Kharrazi, Iran's foreign minister, is likely to raise the diplomatic temperature further by arguing that his country is perfectly entitled to such technology. He may also accuse the US of not doing enough to reduce the threat, by failing to ratify a comprehensive test ban treaty, and exploring the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons.

The US is demanding that Iran place its programme under international control. If not, Washington says it will seek sanctions against Iran at the UN or elsewhere. In the meantime, the US is spearheading an effort to plug a glaring loophole in the NPT, whereby a signatory country is allowed to build nuclear fuel facilities but can then opt out of the treaty with impunity as it takes the crucial step further and produces weapons grade material.

That, broadly, was the course followed by North Korea ­ now believed be close to conducting its first underground nuclear test ­ when it pulled out of the NPT in 2003. Washington and its European allies suspect Iran, still a signatory, plans to do the same.

Many non-nuclear countries accuse the US and other traditional nuclear powers ­ Britain, Russia, France and China ­ of hypocrisy by not reducing their arsenals.

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