UN conference on nuclear proliferation a big test for Obama
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference opens at the United Nations on Monday. Reducing nuclear weapons is a key issue for President Obama, but there are many challenges.
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Another reason is the civilian nuclear cooperation deal the US signed with India. Under a provision OK'd by the Obama administration, India will be permitted to reprocess US-provided fuel into plutonium – ostensibly for its power plants, but potentially for making new bombs.Skip to next paragraph
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At a recent Washington forum, Obama's special representative for nuclear nonproliferation, Susan Burk, said the India deal is "a unique agreement" and "not a precedent for other agreements." But many nuclear experts say it is doubtful that other countries see it that way.
"To think such arguments resonate with anyone outside the State Department is pretty fanciful – just ask Pakistan," says NPEC's Mr. Sokolski. "The problem is that India, a nonsignatory, is being offered all the benefits of being an NPT member without being held to any of the requirements of membership."
Some nuclear proliferation experts say the NPT review conference is simply an opportunity for topical discussions. Other organizations – the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, the multilateral Nuclear Suppliers Group, or the Security Council – are the appropriate venues for action, they say.
But Mr. Ferguson says he is hopeful the conference can at least agree on some steps to strengthen the NPT: for example, a tightening of the rules on withdrawal from the treaty.
"A country that withdraws should be required to open up to a special inspection so the international community can determine if it abused the privileges of membership," he says.
Israel's nuclear arsenal
Another topic certain to surface is a resolution from the 1995 review conference that calls for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. US officials say they support the "objectives" of the resolution and see it as one means of pressuring both Iran and Syria on their suspicious nuclear activities. But Egypt, Turkey, and others warn that they will label any focus on the Middle East resolution "hypocritical" if it lacks a call for Israel to give up its arsenal.
On that issue, as with many others, all eyes will be focused on the US and the positions it takes under a president who has made the nuclear issue a top priority. But US officials are clear that the job of reducing and ultimately ending the nuclear threat cannot be America's alone.
"The president's agenda is really very significant. It's been very well received, but there should be no illusions that the US alone is going to ride in on the white horse and save the day," says Ambassador Burk, Obama's nonproliferation adviser. "It's going to be a collective effort either way."