16 May 2005, No. 11
The footnote versus the fuel rod
Rhianna Tyson | WILPF
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On Friday 13th, the NPT Review Conference failed to make any progress on the remaining procedural issues at hand. That’s right - no progress. That’s quite an assessment regarding diplomatic negotiations, wherein “progress” can constitute agreement on a footnote, a relative giant leap forward considering it took a week and half to reach that agreement.
Unfortunately, this achievement isn’t quite such a leap to the world outside of the UN building. While the delegates to the Review Conference continued their procedural slugfest over the number of subsidiary bodies to be established (see “Riddle Me This,” News in Review, No. 10), the world inched evermore closer to nuclear war.
On May 11, North Korea announced that it removed 8,000 fuel rods that it intends to reprocess, in order to extract the plutonium needed for nuclear weapons. This announcement took place against suspicious activity at Kilju, where some believe North Korea will soon conduct a nuclear test explosion.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministers of the “European3” ratcheted up their rhetoric towards Iran, sending their strongestworded letter yet to the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rouhani. The British, French and German Foreign Ministers warned that, should Iran make good on its threats to resume uranium enrichment, it “would bring the negotiating process to an end.” Hawks in the US clapped with glee, pointing out that the next chance for the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council is just around the corner, at the next Board of Governors meeting on June 13. “This is the closest we’ve gotten to reporting Iran to the Council since November 2003,” one anonymous US official told the Washington Post.
For their part, the US is upping the global nuclear ante as well. Sunday’s Post revealed that a top secret “Interim Global Strike Alert Order”, issued by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld early last summer, ordered the military to maintain readiness to “attack hostile countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction, specifically Iran and North Korea.” This alert order has implications for the nuclear force as well, which, according to the Commander of the 8th Air Force, is “essentially on alert.”
To those like Kim Jong Il, Rouhani and Rumsfeld, agreement on a footnote just doesn’t pack the same punch as good old-fashioned nuclear saber rattling.
With only a few days left to make real progress on substantive issues, diplomats must heed the words of Kofi Annan, who, on May 13, urged governments to recognize that “what is happening indicates the urgency for the (States parties) to really take this conference seriously and try and strengthen the NPT.”
The footnote will be a symbol of progress if, and only if, it is a prelude to a strong Final Document, one which tackles these fuel rods and out of control fuel cycles, the insanely high operational status of nuclear weapons and the increasingly low threshold to use them. For if diplomacy doesn’t eliminate nuclear weaponry, then the weaponry will certainly eliminate us.