Disarmament Insight


Tuesday, 8 May 2007

NPT newsflash - Bingo! Game On!

(For background about the NPT preparatory meeting see our 6 May posting further below.)

Walking into an NPT conference is always a bit of a surreal experience. Here in Vienna we have governmental and non-governmental representatives from over 180 countries sipping exceedingly stimulating coffee and debating the not-so-finer details of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Except that, until now, they haven’t been.

The conference to prepare for the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference began over a week ago and still they have yet to adopt an agenda. So out of a ten day meeting, we are on day seven with no substantive discussion. This is reminiscent of what happened at the Review Conference in 2005 when Egypt, the US and France, along with a number of other states were locked in battle over how to characterise recent review meetings in the agenda.

This year it has been Iran. And only Iran. The US and Egypt are basking in the praise for their restraint and having put their differences behind them – at least for now and of course only on the decision of the agenda.

So the big question at this meeting has been: will we even get started?

And I can now answer that question at last with an alleluia, shout of proclamation, yes!!

Iran objected to a phrase in the agenda referring to full compliance with the treaty (who could possibly object to that? Indeed, you may wonder). Last Friday, South Africa proposed a fix that a decision could be recorded that:

"The meeting decides that it understands the reference in the agenda to 'reaffirming the need for full compliance with the Treaty' to mean that it will consider compliance with all the provisions of the Treaty".

Following a long statement in which Iran made critical comments regarding the Chair’s conduct of consultations (Ambassador Amano responded in a dignified manner, thus not letting such criticism pass), Iran has just accepted the constructive fix this morning in a “display of goodwill and flexibility”. The fix will be in the form of an asterisk noting the South African-proposed text as a footnote to agenda item six (that deals with the substantive agenda including the phrase on reaffirming the need for full compliance with the Treaty). The agenda was therefore adopted at 11.40am and substantive work can now begin officially.

But why was all this happening?

After all, Iran has received the censure and disapproval of the international community through Security Council resolutions and through the IAEA Board of Governors reports. Why should they be worrying about a mild slap on the wrist contained within a chairman’s summary at a preparatory meeting of the NPT? Why would they isolate themselves in this way and prevent substantive work and development of the Treaty?

A number of explanations have been mooted by varying shades of political opinion and over the next few days in the margins of the official work that will now begin, I may be able to test them out against the evidence.

So now, from the Austria Conference Centre: onwards and sideways!

This is a guest blog from Dr Patricia Lewis.
Patricia is Director of UNIDIR.


Photo of the Austria Centre Vienna, where the NPT meeting is taking place (retrieved from the Austria Centre Vienna website)