Siddharth Varadarajan

Journalist | Writer | Analyst

Fissile material ban talks inch towards consensus

India is wary of the new proposal at the Conference on Disarmament but committed itself in July 2005 to work with the United States for the early conclusion of an FMCT. For once, therefore, New Delhi, is probably happy to see Pakistan raising objections.

2 July 2007
The Hindu

Fissile material ban talks inch towards consensus
Pakistan, China, Iran not satisfied with United Nations Disarmament plan

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: The United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament ended its second session of the year in Geneva on Friday with all 65 members barring Pakistan, China and Iran indicating their willingness to begin immediate negotiations towards the conclusion of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for weapons purposes.

India, which remains uncomfortable with certain procedural and substantive aspects of the impending decision, nevertheless says it will not block the compromise that will allow the CD to begin drafting the fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT).

Actively working with the U.S. on the FMCT is one of the conditions of the July 2005 Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement.

For the past decade, the CD, which is the U.N.’s primary arms control negotiating body, has been deadlocked because of conflicting views about its work plan. On its agenda are four items — disarmament, a fissile material ban, the prevention of an arms race in outer space (Paros) and negative security assurances (NSAs) aimed at assuring non-nuclear weapons states that they would never be attacked or threatened with nuclear weapons by states which possess them.

The U.S. has opposed the CD addressing any issue other than the FMCT, a stand which many countries had objected to. Russia and China, for example, favoured the immediate commencement of negotiations for a Paros treaty while several smaller members, including Iran, said forward movement on NSAs was essential. Under the terms of a compromise proposed last March, the CD will appoint four “coordinators” to oversee discussion on all four topics.

But though the FMCT coordinator’s mandate says he will “preside over negotiations, without any preconditions, on a non-discriminatory and multilateral treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive purposes,” the mandate for the other three coordinators only calls for them to preside over “substantive discussions” in their respective areas.

In response to objections from many countries that the draft was unbalanced, the CD President last month came up with a “complementary presidential statement” reflecting the Conference’s understanding of how the main decision was to be implemented. This statement notes that no preconditions for the FMCT negotiations are being set, “thus providing all delegations with the opportunity to actively pursue their respective positions and principles” during the actual negotiations including, presumably, verification.

As for the “substantive discussions” under the other three heads — disarmament, Paros and NSAs — the statement says no outcome is being prescribed or precluded. “It enables future compromises and agreement(s) and does not exclude the possibility of future negotiations”. Finally, the statement also clarifies that the coordinators will work under the “CD’s rules of procedures,” the most important of which, from the viewpoint of many delegations, is the requirement of consensus

India wants verifiability

In a statement to the CD on June 19, India said it would like the CD’s draft decision and Complementary Presidential Statement combined into one integrated text so that there was no ambiguity. But Ambassador Jayant Prasad also reiterated a substantive objection. India, he said, “very clearly indicated the importance we attach to a universal, non-discriminatory and internationally and effectively verifiable (FMCT).” Mr. Prasad urged the CD President to continue consultations “so that we are able to arrive at a sufficient common understanding on this fundamental issue.” India’s stand on verification runs counter to the official position of the U.S.

Though Washington had gone along with the ‘Shanon mandate’ of 1995 which envisaged verifiability, the Bush administration declared in July 2004 that it would no longer support international verification. The U.S. preference is to use its own intelligence capabilities to ensure all signatories comply with their treaty obligations.

On June 21, the CD’s Swedish President asked whether there was any delegation that was not prepared to proceed on the basis of the emerging consensus. The only three countries to say yes were China, Pakistan and Iran.

China said it had some “queries and concerns” about the “status and content” of the Complementary Statement and asked for more time to study the implications. The Chinese Ambassador also endorsed India’s remarks on the FMCT. He accepted the logic of the compromise which would enable work on the treaty to begin but said China wanted substantive work on the other agenda items as well.

In a number of spirited interventions last week, Pakistan’s Ambassador, Tahmina Janjua, repeatedly objected to the failure of the draft decision to include verification.

Ms. Janjua also raised the issue of existing fissile material stockpiles. Pakistan, she said, wanted a “clear reference” to these two points. She also said there should be “negotiations” on the other three issues.

On its part, Iran said it had expected a clear commitment towards negotiations on disarmament and NSAs. Its Ambassador also said Tehran was “uncertain about the usefulness of an FMCT with no verification system and excluding existing stockpiles of fissile material that can be used for nuclear weapons.”

As a country with the smallest stockpile of fissile material for weapons purposes, Pakistan would like the FMCT to neutralise the advantage larger nuclear weapons states like India have. Many countries, including South Africa, Algeria, New Zealand and Brazil, share its position on stocks. However, the U.S. and Russia, oppose the inclusion of existing fissile material. China, which has concerns about the huge stockpiles of the U.S. and Russia, would prefer to secure a commitment on their reduction outside the ambit of the FMCT.

India has not taken a formal position on stockpiles but supports the idea that the FMCT prohibit only “the future production of fissile material.”

The CD will reconvene for the year’s last session on July 30.

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This entry was posted on July 2, 2007 by in Nuclear Issues.



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