U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference A conference on nuclear weapons begins Monday at the United Nations. The sessions are aimed at preventing the proliferation of weapons. Guest: Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association

U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference

U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference

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A conference on nuclear weapons begins Monday at the United Nations. The sessions are aimed at preventing the proliferation of weapons. Guest: Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association

NEAL CONAN, host:

A conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, opened at the United Nations in New York City this morning with a bang or, rather, a splash after North Korea's short-range missile test yesterday over the Sea of Japan. While this conference occurs every five years, the power of the treaty has never been more strained. Speaking at the conference this morning, Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the United Nations nuclear agency the IAEA, spoke of some of the dark realities that have emerged since the group last met.

Mr. MOHAMMED ElBARADEI (International Atomic Energy Agency): In five years, the world has changed. Our fears of a deadly nuclear detonation, whatever the cause, have been reawakened. In part, these fears are driven by new realities: the rise in terrorism, the discovery of clandestine nuclear programs, the emergence of a new black market. But these realities have also heightened our awareness of vulnerabilities in the NPT regime.

CONAN: To help us better understand the Non-Proliferation Treaty and this conference, we turn to Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the non-partisan Arms Control Association. He's with us here in Studio 3A.

Nice of you to join us today.

Mr. DARYL KIMBALL (Arms Control Association): Thank you.

CONAN: What vulnerabilities was Mr. ElBaradei talking about?

Mr. KIMBALL: Well, the treaty, which is now 35 years old, has been very effective in holding back the number of nuclear weapons states to eight. But we see, as ElBaradei just said, the emergence of black-market nuclear networks, the possibility that terrorists might acquire nuclear material from the former Soviet Union, from insecure facilities. We also see in particular the problem of Iran acquiring or coming close to the acquisition of uranium enrichment capacity, which can be used for peaceful purposes, which is allowed under Article 4 of the treaty. But it is also worrisome because uranium enrichment can be used to make highly enriched uranium, which is one of the two key ingredients for the bomb.

We also have, of course, North Korea, as you mentioned in the lead-up, not just test-firing missiles, but over the last three years they have restarted a plutonium production program and have claimed that they have. Nuclear weapons talks with North Korea have been stalled now for over a year. So we have two countries, Iran and North Korea, that are on the verge of breaking out of the treaty. And at the same time, we have the five original nuclear weapons states--the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain--failing to follow through on their commitments to fulfill Article 6 of the treaty, which binds them to pursue nuclear disarmament and, in the end, eliminate their nuclear weapons. And the US in particular has taken steps that repudiate past commitments at the 1995 and 2000 conference. So the treaty is under a great deal of stress. The conference may not be able to accomplish all that many of us hope, but it can be used as an opportunity, a steppingstone to help strengthen the treaty in several key aspects.

CONAN: Well, you also have the problem of the non-members who have nuclear weapons--Israel, India, Pakistan and, since North Korea's withdrawn, them, too.

Mr. KIMBALL: That's right, and that's another problem issue. India and Pakistan have never joined the treaty. They do have nuclear weapons. Israel is widely believed to have them, but will not admit that they do have them. And so what that means for many states is that there's not only a discriminatory system with respect to five declared nuclear weapons states having weapons, but there are three outside the treaty. And so there are states like Japan, Brazil, many of the European states, who have been good-faith members of this treaty. The vast majority of states have done their parts to stay in this treaty. But there are a few states who are pushing the limits of what the treaty allows and making it difficult for the treaty and the member states to sustain the very delicate balance that has existed for 35 years.

CONAN: And given the strains, and in the few seconds we have available, what's the--if there's one thing to come out of this monthlong conference, what do you think it's going to be?

Mr. KIMBALL: Well, I think one thing that has to be avoided is further damage. It's possible that the United States might get into a war of words with the Iranians, who are members of the treaty and who are going to give as good as they get. They deserve criticism, but we have to be careful that we do not derail the ongoing talks with the European states on holding back Iran's program. So we have to first do no harm, and second, we've got to try to find some way to reach agreement on key steps that would strengthen the treaty in the areas where it is vulnerable and weak.

CONAN: Daryl Kimball, thanks very much.

Mr. KIMBALL: Thank you.

CONAN: Daryl Kimball, executive director of the non-partisan Arms Control Association, here with us in Studio 3A.

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