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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project