Western nuclear powers to sign pact

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The Independent Online

Diplomatic Editor

Britain, France and the United States yesterday announced they would sign the South Pacific nuclear free treaty, bowing to strong regional opposition to French nuclear tests and hostility towards the presence of foreign nuclear weapons.

The decision, first reported by the Independent, came after secret consultations between the three nuclear powers. It was timed to avoid a row at the UN's 50th anniversary meeting and the Commonwealth summit in Auckland next month.

The Treaty of Rarotonga came into force in 1986 and has been signed by Australia, New Zealand and nine other South Pacific states. It prohibits the acquisition, stationing or testing of nuclear weapons in a huge zone extending from the equator to the fringes of Antarctica.

"The decision ... reflects our wish to respond in a practical way to the concerns of those in the region and elsewhere about nuclear testing," the Foreign Office said. It confirmed Britain's belief that an end to all nuclear testing was in sight. But Australia's Environment Minister, John Faulkner, said the move would not defuse opposition to the tests at Mururoa Atoll.

Diplomats said yesterday's announcement merely committed the three powers to sign the treaty at an undecided date in the first half of 1996.