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20 May 2005, No. 15

Sorting through the substance
Rhianna Tyson | WILPF


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After almost three weeks of procedural battles, each of the Main Committees (MC) commenced their long-awaited and long overdue work in a deluge of substantive issues. No wonder the President has three Chairs to help him sort it all out. Even they, in turn, each have a subsidiary body Chair to help them plot a course toward consensus. Though only five sessions for each Committee remain, the workload ahead is, as New Zealand’s Ambassador Tim Caughley acknowledged, “an obviously daunting task.”

Of the 27 statements delivered to Main Committee I, the vast majority focused on various issues of disarmament, including the need for transparency and irreversibility in nuclear disarmament, the urgency of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to enter-into-force, the desire for a subsidiary body on nuclear disarmament in the Conference on Disarmament, needed negotiations on legally binding security assurances and other measures agreed upon in past Final Documents that remain unfulfilled today.

Four Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) utilized their MC I statements to demonstrate their commitment and compliance to disarmament commitments. Unfortunately, with few exceptions (such as the UK’s work in the field of verification), most of the measures heralded by France, China, Russia and the UK were not taken in the past five years, the focused time period that the Conference is supposed to review.

The US’s MC I statement, by contrast, focused entirely on Articles I and II, with examples of Iran’s non-compliance comprising the bulk of its MC I statement. Ambassador Jackie Sanders asserted that Iran’s “pursuit of enrichment and reprocessing without an economic justification” is “an indicator of a possible Article II violation.” She continued to assert unequivocally that Iran “is determined to acquire an enrichment plant to give itself the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons.”

While Main Committee I plodded along with its predictable General Debate as though time was not running out, Main Committees II and III had a bit more difficult of a day.

In MC II, Egypt sought to confirm that one of the two meetings of the subsidiary body be devoted to the Middle East, an “understanding” that Egypt thought “had been reached, already agreed upon ‘in principle’”. With objections from the US and Australia, this procedural fight is prolonged even further, inciting the Chair to warn that if there is no agreement by Wednesday, he will close Committee and issue a chairman's factual summary.

Normally the most placid of the Committees, MC III turned into the showdown grounds for the face off between the US and Iran. In just one session, accusations were hurled back and forth between the two nemeses, indicating that this normally controversy-free committee will be a bit livelier than in previous Review Conferences.

In a particularly lengthy statement, Iran warned against States restricting transfers of nuclear technology and deplored the unbalanced power that nuclear suppliers have over recipients. Iran also warned that threats of attack faced by Non-Nuclear Weapon States from both Nuclear Weapon States (read: US) as well as non-parties (read: Israel) threaten the very existence of the NPT.

Canada, which continues to prove itself as an indispensable bridge-builder in progressively polarized debates, addressed Iran’s concerns while supporting efforts to freeze enrichment and reprocessing capabilities: “In an increasingly inter-dependent world, few states can claim energy self-sufficiency. Such inter-dependence should not, however, be regarded as a weakness, but rather a testimony to the strength of the global economy…(C)urrent work to develop innovative approaches to the fuel cycle …could reduce the incentive for States to acquire a production capacity for to weapon-useable material, while at the same time ensuring access by States Party to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes at reasonable market prices. To be viable, such approaches must be consensual and non-discriminatory, providing States a reliable alternative to domestic enrichment and reprocessing.”

Over the next few days, the Chairs of these Committees and subsidiary bodies indeed have their work cut out for them. Reports to the Drafting Committee are due by Wednesday, indicating that the Chairs will most probably be working through this next beautiful weekend. Just how they will sort through the mass of working papers, non-papers, statements and accusations in the hopes of conceiving agreeable- yet effective- language for the Final Document will remain to be seen.

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