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6 May 2009, No. 3

Return to multilateralism?
Ray Acheson & Michael Spies | Reaching Critical Will


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The second day of the NPT PrepCom brought two very interesting developments. During the continued general “debate,” US Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation Rose Gottemoeller delivered an anticipated statement revising US positions in light of President Obama’s 5 April speech in Prague The statement was an encouraging sign that the new US administration is taking the NPT seriously and is ready to change its attitude toward and position on a few key aspects of the implementation of the Treaty.

At the outset, Ms. Gottemoeller read a message to the PrepCom from President Obama, who reaffirmed US commitment to the Treaty and to achieving a successful outcome at this Committee and at next year’s Review Conference. In a welcome split from Bush era policy, Obama’s message emphasized the importance of multilateralism. He urged governments to seek common ground, however, recognizing“that differences are inevitable and that NPT parties will not always view each element of the treaty in the same way. But we must define ourselves not by our differences, but by our readiness to pursue dialogue and hard work.”

Representing another split from Bush era policy—one that will help governments avoid the stumbling blocks encountered in 2005, Ms. Gottemoeller announced that the United States would place a balanced emphasis on all three pillars on the Treaty throughout the rest of the review process. On disarmament, she reaffirmed that the US would seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiation of a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty, and a new bilateral reductions treaty with Russia. Most importantly, she reaffirmed the decision to extend the NPT in 1995 and the decisions made at the 1995 and 2000 Review Conferences, including the 1995 Middle East resolution.

The second interesting development was news on the agenda for the 2010 RevCon, which is reportedly based on the agenda of the 2000 RevCon, incorporating appropriate technical updates. However, according to sources, the chair was compelled to drop the addition of language calling for the review to take into account developments subsequent to 2000—likely out of concern that this would permit the RevCon to single out specific cases of non-compliance.

The 2000 RevCon agenda provided a mandate for review of the Treaty taking into account the decisions and resolution adopted in 1995. It also provided for two subsidiary bodies: one to deal with practical disarmament steps and the other to deal with implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East.

As of Tuesday, a single delegation continued to vocally object to the adoption of the agenda as it stands. Some delegates expressed skepticism that this issue would be resolved by the time the chair indicated he would like to take action on the agenda (Wednesday morning). The nature of the objection is unclear to many.

Especially in light of the numerous statements expressing renewed optimism and welcoming the recent high level attention to nuclear disarmament from many nuclear weapon states, the quick and painless adoption of the RevCon agenda would be a good sign that governments will be able to seriously work toward achieving substantive agreement in 2010.

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