Nuclear pact now or never, says Gore

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The Independent Online

in New York

Vice-President Al Gore warned yesterday that the world had a "one-time option" to ensure the permanent extension of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and argued fiercely against extending it for a limited period.

"The last thing that we need as we wrestle with the problem of further constraining nuclear weapons in ways that are irrevocable, is for the treaty itself to become a covenant subject to revocation at regular intervals," he told the conference on extending the treaty now meeting in New York.

A large block of non-aligned countries, led by Mexico and Indonesia, are arguing against indefinite extension of the NPT because they believe it would enshrine the right of the five declared nuclear states, Britain included, to retain their nuclear weapons.

But in his address Mr Gore said it was "vital that we take advantage of this one-time option to extend the treaty indefinitely without conditions". Of the five declared nuclear weapons states only China remains equivocal about the need for indefinite extension.

The American Vice-President emphasised the achievements of the US and the former Soviet Union towards disarmament, notably in agreeing the Start I and Start II agreements, which hold out the prospect of reducing their combined nuclear arsenals by two thirds.