French to join nuclear free zone in the Pacific

Britain, France and the United States are to announce shortly that they are joining the South Pacific nuclear-free zone - once the French nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll are finished.

It will be seen as an effort by London and Washington to help France to rebuild diplomatic and political bridges in the region, shattered by the resumption of tests last month. Paris will also commit itself to closing its test facilities at Mururoa once it has completed its experiments in May.

All three Western nuclear powers - France, Britain and the US - are expected to pledge adherence to the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga, which established a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific.

The announcement, to be made simultaneously in Paris, London and Washington, is likely as early as tomorrow, diplomatic sources in New York confirmed. "It is 99 per cent certain, although there are a couple of wrinkles left to iron out," one European diplomat said.

Suzanna van Moyland of the Vertic nuclear non-proliferation pressure group, said: "This is a very positive development for the region. But there is no reason why Britain and the US should not have signed long ago. It is interesting that they are holding back for France."

The timing of the initiative is far from arbitrary. On Saturday, leaders of 150 nations arrive in New York for three days of speeches to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Many feared the event would be marred by protests against the French President, Jacques Chirac.

Britain has been searching for a way to mitigate criticism of its failure to join the condemnation of France. John Major will be asked to explain Britain's low profile at the summit of Commonwealth heads of state and government next month in New Zealand.

By signing protocols attached to the Treaty of Rarotonga, the three countries will commit themselves to its main provisions forbidding the use, storage, testing or dumping of any nuclear explosive devices in the South Pacific. Russia and China are already signatories. Until now Britain in particular has been hesitant about such a pledge.

Reaction to the announcement among nations that have been most upset by the French tests is not likely to be ecstatic. While announcing its intention to join the treaty, France can still give no indication of when exactly it will put pen to paper. Only at that time will it be obliged to cease using Mururoa for nuclear testing. None the less, until this point France has never given any undertaking to close its Pacific nuclear facilities. "The fact that France and the other Western powers are going to take this amazingly important step should help cool tempers," a European diplomat insisted.

Ironically, Australia only yesterday voiced formal disappointment before the UN's General Assembly that the three countries had still not joined the Rarotonga Treaty. The deputy Australian ambassador to the UN, Richard Rowe, said an announcement reversing that stance would mitigate some, but not all, of the ill-feeling against France. "It's good news as far as it goes, but our position still remains that France has got to stop testing."

On the broader issue of testing, the US is pressing for a statement from the nuclear powers setting 30 April 1996 as the deadline for agreeing a final text in the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban talks in Geneva. President Bill Clinton, who may commit his administration to the deadline when he addresses the UN on Sunday, is anxious to accelerate work towards the test ban.

If a text can be settled by the end of April, the way would be clear for final signature in October next year, enabling him to claim credit ahead of the US presidential elections in November. There is scepticism among European officials whether an April deadline is practicable, however. One said that there was a reluctance to appear to be "dragged along by the Americans".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders