Nuclear Conference Reveals Tension between the US and Iran

Delegates from the United States, the United Kingdom and France walked out Monday as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blasted America and Israel at the global gathering on disarmament and offered his own ideas to thwart the spread of nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad spoke at the Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The conference has been held every five years for nations to discuss how to cut the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.

In opening the conference, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had called on Iran to prove that its nuclear program was solely for peaceful purposes and to accept a compromise deal offered to Tehran last fall. Mr. Ahmadinejad was so eager to knock down claims that Iran was blocking the deal that he started his speech with a denial, even before giving the traditional blessing at the start of any talk, “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate.” (New York Times) Instead, Mr. Ahmadinejad started right in by saying that the ball was not in Iran’s court, but in that of other negotiators. “The secretary general said that Iran must accept the fuel exchange and that the ball is now in Iran’s court,” Ahmadinejad said. “Well, I’d like to tell you and inform him as well that we’d accepted that from the start, and I’d like to announce once again that [it is] an accepted deal. Therefore, we have now thrown the ball in the court of those who should accept our proposal and embark on cooperation with us.” (Washington Post)

Ahmadinejad said he deplores the possession and use of nuclear arms and called the weapons “a fire against humanity” rather than weapons “for defence.” (CNN) He said nuclear-weapon states want to “monopolize” the weapons and “peaceful nuclear energy.” His blunt criticism of the West sparked the walkout by the lower-level Western diplomats. There is “not a single credible proof” that Iran is developing nuclear weapons,” Ahmadinejad declared. (CBC)

As Ahmadinejad spoke, the U.S. delegation, of Assembly hall, joined by several European delegations and the European Union, including the French and British, walked out.

Iran’s nuclear program has been controversial. Western nations say Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and they have been working to stop its efforts. Tehran says its program is aimed strictly at developing nuclear energy, and Ahmadinejad reiterated that stance. He said those who “carried out the first atomic bombardment are among the most hated individuals in human history,” a reference to the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. (CNN) He said the United States continues to threaten to use such weaponry against other countries, including Iran. “The first atomic weapons were produced and used by the United States,” he said. “This seemed, apparently, to provide the United States and its allies with the upper hand in World War II. However, it became the main source of the development and the spread of nuclear weapons by the others and brought about the nuclear arms race,” he said, adding that Washington has “never respected” any of its nonproliferation comments. (CNN)

He also said Israel has been stockpiling nuclear weapons and threatens its neighbors. Israel has never confirmed that it possesses nuclear arms. “While the Zionist regime – which has stockpiled hundreds of nuclear warheads – has waged many wars in the region and continues to threaten the people and nations of the region with terror and invasion, [it] enjoys the unconditional support of the United States government and its allies and receives, as well, the necessary assistance to develop its nuclear weapons program.” (CNN)

Ahmadinejad touched the use of nuclear energy as “among the cleanest and cheapest sources of energy.” (CNN) “Sever climate change and environmental pollution caused by fossil fuel has intensified the need to expand the use of nuclear energy,” he said. “The nuclear technology can be effectively and widely applied in the production of medical isotopes for diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases as well as in industry, agriculture and in other fields.” (CNN)

Ahmadinejad wants “dismantling of nuclear weapons stationed in the military bases of the United States and its allies in other countries, including Germany, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands” and suspending of membership in the United Nations’ atomic energy agency for states that use or threaten to use nuclear weapons. (CNN)

The Iranian leader called for “transparent, binding and effective mechanisms buttressed with solid international guarantees” to achieve nuclear disarmament and called for an independent international group to pursue that end. He called for “termination of all types of research, development or improvement of nuclear weapons and their related facilities,” and adoption of a legally binding measure prohibiting “production, stockpiling, improvement, proliferation, maintaining and use of nuclear weapons.” Ahmadinejad advocated “immediate and unconditional implementation” of a Mideast nuclear-free zone. Also, he said, “any threat to use nuclear weapons or attack against peaceful nuclear facilities” should be considered “a breach of international peace and security, and swift reaction from the United Nations and termination of all cooperation of [nonproliferation treaty] member states with the threatening/aggressor state.” The “era of reliance” of some nations on “nuclear weaponry has passed,” Ahmadinejad said. “Rather than continuing with the failed policy of the predecessors, it would be better to join the wide and transparent ocean of nations, independent states and human wisdom and culture. This would be in our best interest,” he said, adding “There will be no room in the future for bullying and the arrogant.” He urged U.S. President Obama to join the “humane movement.” Ahmadinejad espoused “if he is still committed to his motto of ‘change,’ since tomorrow would be too late for this.” (CNN)

Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s foreign minister, dismissed the Iranian leader’s speech as a “publicity stunt” and said the world still demanded that Iran comply with Security Council resolutions about its nuclear program. But Mr. Cannon and other foreign ministers also said they did not want the issue of Iran to completely hijack the conference, since there were other disarmament issues that needed addressing. (New York Times)

Mr. Ban said the conference negotiations, due to last until the end of May, should focus on a few central issues: more nuclear arms cuts, greater transparency in national nuclear programs, getting the three states outside the treaty – India, Pakistan, and Israel – to sign it, and a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East.

Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, singled out Iran, North Korea and Syria for their lack of cooperation with the agency. North Korea has refused any cooperation with the agency since April 2009, he said, while Syria has refused to engage since June 2008 over questions about what officials suspect was a nuclear facility imported from North Korea and destroyed by Israel. Mr. Amano said Iran needed to comply with the safeguards agreement it had signed with his agency. The agency “remains unable to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities because Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation,” he said, adding that Iran should “clarify activities with a possible military dimension.” (New York Times)

Even before the opening speeches, the conference was shaping up as a showdown between Iran and the United States, with each side jockeying for allies in the escalating dispute over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

During his speech, Ahmadinejad dismissed the Obama administration’s “Nuclear Posture Review” issued last month, heaping scorn on U.S. pledges not to develop new nuclear weapons and not to use existing nuclear arms to attack non-nuclear states that comply with the NPT. “The United States has never respected any of its commitments,” Ahmadinejad charged. “What guarantees are there that it would live up to its commitments?” (Washington Post)

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton suggested Ahmadinejad was coming to New York “to divert attention and confuse the issue.” She said, “We’re not going to permit Iran to try to change the story from their failure to comply” with the NPT. (CBC) The treaty is regarded as the world’s single most important pact on nuclear arms, credited with preventing their proliferation of dozens of nations since it entered 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 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. The only countries that are not treaty members are India, Pakistan, and North Korea, all of which have nuclear arsenals or weapons programs, and Israel, which has an unacknowledged nuclear arsenal. But the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty conference cannot easily “name and shame” an alleged treaty violator, such as Iran, since as a member state its delegation would block consensus. (CBC)

In the first concrete step associated with the 2010 meeting, Indonesia announced last week it would ratify the test-ban treaty.

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to push for U.S. ratification of the pact, which was rejected by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate in 1999.

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