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Labour attacks diplomat over nuclear talks

The shadow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, yesterday accused the Government of trying to exclude the press and other observers from key meetings at the conference on extending the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Mr Cook, who otherwise supports government backing for an indefinite extension of the treaty, said efforts by Sir Michael Weston, the British Ambassador to the New York conference, to exclude non-governmental groups and the media from committee meetings was inconsistent with its demand that the final vote be by public roll call.

The claim was dismissed as "nonsense" by Sir Michael. He said that while the issue of media attendance had been discussed, he "didn't take a position". Britain had pressed only that the same rules should apply to all the conference's committees, he said.

The ambassador acknowledged, however, that he supported a decision already taken to exclude press and all non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from committee sessions when they draft texts. "You can't draft and you can't get the flexibility from delegations you need if you have to take account of the public gallery.",

While it is not unusual for drafting sessions of United Nations committees to be behind closed doors, NGOs at this conference believe they are deliberately being held at an unusual distance from the NPT meeting. "There is a general feeling that we are finding ourselves far more excluded than would be normal at other such UN conferences", Dan Plesch, director of Basic, the British American Security Information Council, said yesterday,

Mr Cook said there could be "no justification" for discussing the NPT extension in secret."The future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is of vital interest to everyone. In attempting to prevent the media and non- governmental organisations from gaining access to the main committee sessions, the Government is denying the public an opportunity to hold it accountable."

The US yesterday tried to save its controversial nuclear deal with North Korea by proposing higher-level talks after negotiations in Berlin broke down and the North Korean team flew home. North Korea refuses to accept South Korean light-water technology to replace its gas-graphite reactors.

North Korea' senior negotiator, Kim Jong-U, blamed an "unrealistic and unreasonable" American approach for the breakdown.

Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, said the Clinton administration was still ready to continue negotiating, providing the North Koreans did not reload their reactors to produce more plutonium, the key ingredient in nuclear bombs. He conceded the Berlin talks had failed but did not consider the problem insoluble. The US is proposing higher- level talks in Geneva, to be conducted by its chief negotiator, Ambassador Robert Gallucci.

Meanwhile, in the main conference in New York, Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, launched an assault on nuclear powers, accusing them of building up nuclear capabilities "in an unbridled fashion" and assisting Israel's nuclear programme.