- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

NEW YORK — In a world of growing nuclear fears and mistrust, U.S. negotiators come to New York today to urge a global nonproliferation conference to take action on Iran and North Korea.

But the Americans and other nuclear powers will face demands themselves. Non-nuclear states last week complained the big powers were moving too slowly toward nuclear disarmament, described as “not an option, but a legal obligation” under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.

Because of this clash of priorities, treaty members yesterday still hadn’t completed an agenda for the monthlong conference to review the NPT, whose workings are reassessed every five years.

Hundreds of protesters made their priorities clear on the eve of the opening, as they marched past the United Nations in blustery New York spring weather. “Abolish nuclear weapons now” and “No more Hiroshimas” read banners carried by a large Japanese contingent in the anti-nuclear march.

“No nation, no group should test and make material for nuclear weapons. Everything should be banned,” said Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba of Hiroshima, the city obliterated by a U.S. atomic bomb in 1945.

In distant capitals, nuclear tensions heightened over the weekend as the U.N. conference neared.

After renewed talks with European negotiators made no reported progress, Iran said Saturday it would probably resume disputed operations this week related to uranium enrichment, a potential step toward an atom bomb.

North Korea, meanwhile, denounced President Bush on Saturday as a “hooligan” and said it doesn’t expect a solution to the standoff over its nuclear program during his tenure. The escalating rhetoric was followed yesterday by a test-firing of a North Korean short-range missile into the East Sea/Sea of Japan.

The North Koreans, who declared in 2003 they were withdrawing from the NPT, have since said they have built nuclear weapons.

Under the 35-year-old NPT, North Korea and 183 other states were to have forsworn such arms in exchange for a pledge by five nuclear powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — to move toward nuclear disarmament. But, under treaty rules, Pyongyang was able to withdraw without penalty.

Conference organizers anticipate a low-key approach toward North Korea, to avoid complicating efforts to draw it back into six-party talks aimed at shutting down its nuclear program. But Bush administration officials say they will work to make treaty noncompliance the focus of the review sessions.

“The conference should condemn North Korea’s egregious behavior,” U.S. delegation leader Stephen G. Rademaker told a House subcommittee Thursday.

Without targeting Pyongyang, European and Canadian proposals before the conference would make it more difficult for future North Koreas to withdraw from the treaty without sanction.

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