- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

GENEVA — The prospect of a new U.S. offer has revived hopes that stalled United Nations talks on a treaty to ban the materials needed to make nuclear bombs can proceed.

Serious talks on the pact at the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament have been blocked for seven years owing to sharp disagreements among the great powers and developing countries over the negotiating agenda.

Many had thought that the Bush administration had little interest in the talks, but a senior administration official told The Washington Times that a formal interagency review of the administration’s position is in a “well-advanced stage.”

Decisions at the conference are made by consensus, and the U.S. official, speaking on background, said the administration is not prepared to “join any consensus.”

An ambassador from a NATO member country, also speaking on background, said conference nations are awaiting the completion of the Washington review, but there has been no clear indication when it will be done.

The talks gained momentum when President Bush identified a global accord under the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty talks as a national security priority in a strategy review released in September 2002.

The U.S. shift comes after China last summer dropped a demand that the fissile-material agreement could proceed only if Washington stopped blocking separate talks aimed at prohibiting an arms race in outer space.

The Chinese shift cleared the way for a new effort on the treaty, diplomats said.

The U.S. review came at a time when many other nations in the U.N. Conference on Disarmament had become convinced that the Bush administration had written off a deal.

John Bolton, the State Department’s top arms negotiator, failed to discuss the logjam during a secret visit to Geneva earlier this month.

“There is simply no willingness to start real negotiations,” said Josef Goldblat, vice president of the Geneva International Peace Research Institute.

Mr. Goldblat blamed the new U.S. disarmament policy under Mr. Bush. “All the other countries are ready to make concessions,” he said.

The conference also has been divided over a French initiative, backed by the United States and others, to include in the negotiating scope the new threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The conference successfully concluded the convention prohibiting chemical weapons in 1992, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans nuclear weapons test explosions, in 1996.

But the lack of progress on the fissile-material pact led U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to dispatch his top disarmament aide, Nobuyasu Abe, to Geneva to try to reinvigorate the process, diplomatic sources said.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency, made a similar plea earlier this month.

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