Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad brings his nuclear case to New York today, turning a UN treaty conference into a stage for Tehran's long-running showdown with the Western powers over its uranium enrichment program.
The only head of state participating, Ahmadinejad was one of Monday's scheduled kickoff speakers for the monthlong session, to review the workings of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
Departing Tehran on Sunday, the Iranian leader made clear he would assail US-led efforts to impose a new round of UN sanctions on his country for refusing to stop its enrichment program, which Washington and others contend is meant to produce the nuclear fuel for bombs in violation of Iran's NPT obligations.
"Under the pretext of prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation, they impose heavy pressures on independent countries," Ahmadinejad complained to reporters.
He is also expected to counter with a denunciation of the United States and other nuclear-armed nations for their slow movement toward disarmament. "The atomic bomb has become a tool for bullying, domination and expansionism," he said Sunday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, following Ahmadinejad to the UN stage later Monday, suggested over the weekend he was coming to New York "to divert attention and confuse the issue."
"We're not going to permit Iran to try to change the story from their failure to comply" with the NPT, she said on Sunday's "Meet the Press" on NBC.
The US delegation will find an ally in UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said last week that "the onus is on you" — Ahmadinejad — to prove the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, as Iran claims.
While delegates assess the state of the NPT in U.N. conference halls, American and European diplomats will be working elsewhere to reach agreement with the sometimes reluctant China and Russia on a fourth round of UN Security Council economic penalties to impose on Iran.
Although Ahmadinejad's presence meant the first-day agenda was dominated by the Iran issue, it was only the beginning of a four-week diplomatic marathon meant to produce a consensus final document pointing toward ways to better achieve the NPT's goals of checking the spread of nuclear weapons, while working toward reducing and eventually eliminating them.
The treaty is regarded as the world's single most important pact on nuclear arms, credited with preventing their proliferation to dozens of nations since it entered into force in 1970. It was a grand global bargain: Nations without nuclear weapons committed not to acquire them; those with them committed to move toward their elimination; and all endorsed everyone's right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.
The 189 treaty members — every nation but India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, all of which have nuclear arsenals or weapons programs — gather every five years to discuss new approaches to problems, by agreeing, for example, that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear inspection agency, should be strengthened.
But the NPT conference cannot easily "name and shame" an alleged treaty violator, such as Iran, since as a member state its delegation would block consensus.
At three of seven past conferences, delegates failed to produce a declaration, including in 2005, at a time when the US administration, under President George W. Bush, was unenthusiastic about arms control talks.
President Barack Obama has steered the US back onto a negotiating track, including with a new US-Russian agreement to reduce their thousands of long-range nuclear arms. Despite that, Libran N. Cabactulan, the Philippine diplomat who is president of this 2010 NPT conference, said he finds the No. 1 goal of many treaty nations is to press the NPT nuclear powers — also including Britain, France and China — to move more rapidly toward disarmament.
To that end, the Nonaligned Movement of 118 developing nations has submitted to the conference a detailed "plan of action" for moving toward global nuclear disarmament by 2030. One its earliest steps is full ratification and entry into force of the 1996 treaty banning all nuclear tests.
In the first concrete step associated with this 2010 meeting, Indonesia announced last week it would ratify the test-ban treaty. Obama has pledged to push for US ratification of the pact, which was rejected by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate in 1999.