x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Security Council to pursue nuclear disarmament

Council members adopt a US-backed resolution on nuclear disarmament and consensus emerges on tackling Iran's atomic programme.

NEW YORK // The US president Barack Obama's efforts to engage world leaders gained traction yesterday with Security Council members adopting a US-backed resolution on nuclear disarmament and consensus emerged on tackling Iran's atomic programme. The 15-nation body unanimously supported the resolution, which called for efforts to halt the spread of nuclear arms, encourage disarmament and address "nuclear terrorism", during the first council meeting ever chaired by a US president.

The US also secured support from Russia and China to ratchet up pressure on Iran, with a unified message on Wednesday calling for Tehran to prepare a "serious response" by October 1 to demands it halt its nuclear programme - or risk the consequences. Mr Obama elevated nuclear disarmament to the top of his international agenda, but attempts to disassociate himself from his predecessor, George W Bush, had hitherto failed to garner a response from the global community.

"We harbour no illusions about the difficulty of bringing about a world without nuclear weapons," Mr Obama told council members during only the fifth head-of-state council summit in the body's 63-year history. "We know there are plenty of cynics, and that there will be setbacks to prove their point. But there will also be days like today that push us forward - days that tell a different story." The presidents of Russia and China, Dmitry Medvedev and Hu Jintao, joined the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, to back the US-drafted resolution, which supports creating more nuclear-free zones and new disarmament talks between Russia and the US.

Envisioning a "world without nuclear weapons", the resolution calls for strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). "There is a new momentum for a world free of nuclear weapons," the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, told reporters before the meeting. "The moment is rare and we must seize this moment." Diplomats wrangled for weeks while drafting the resolution, eventually agreeing to avoid mention of Iran and North Korea by name, instead referring to them by reaffirming previous resolutions about their nuclear plans.

The omission reflects disagreement among the US, China and Russia over how to deal with nations that shirk their nuclear obligations. North Korea withdrew from the NPT and has tested nuclear devices; while Iran is pursuing elements of a possible nuclear-weapons programme and ignoring demands to suspend uranium enrichment. The White House made advances in tackling Iran's nuclear programme on Wednesday by securing support from the Russian leader, Mr Medvedev, who said that further sanctions against Tehran could be inevitable.

The hardening of the Russian position is partly seen as a payback for Mr Obama's decision last week to scale back a Bush-era plan for a controversial European missile defence programme that had angered Moscow. The US and Russia are among six countries that will hold talks in Europe next week with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Mr Obama wants to reserve the possibility of pursuing tougher sanctions if those meetings lead to no restraint by Iran in coming weeks.

Russia, which has strong economic ties with Tehran, has stood in the way of stronger action against Iran in the past. In remarks to reporters with Mr Medvedev at his side, Mr Obama said both agree that negotiations with Iran are still the best approach. The Gulf Co-operation Council is seeking to play a role in stopping Iran's nuclear programme, with members of the six-nation bloc planning to use the prospect of oil contracts, arms deals and work visas to persuade Russia and China to take a tougher stance, according to The Guardian.

Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has adopted a softer tone since arriving in New York, seeking to improve relations with the US and expressing an openness to include nuclear matters on the negotiations agenda. Yet despite suffering from weakened credibility as a result of his disputed election victory in June, Mr Ahmadinejad has given no sign that his country is willing to bargain away its nuclear programme.

Shifts in international relations are being seen as a response to the multilateral approach of Mr Obama, who spent three days at UN headquarters advocating for tackling climate change and nuclear proliferation. In his first UN speech as president, Mr Obama urged an audience of some 120 leaders to cease viewing "America with scepticism and distrust" while calling on assembled statesmen to shoulder their "share of responsibility" on global security.

"Make no mistake: This cannot be solely America's endeavour," he told the General Assembly. "Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world's problems alone." Sending another positive signal, the US rejoined a biennial conference designed to win more support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty after a 10-year gap yesterday. The 1996 treaty seeks to ban all nuclear bomb tests but will not come into effect until it has been ratified by 44 nuclear-capable states. Besides the US, the holdouts include China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan.

Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, described Mr Obama's chairmanship of the Security Council as an "important gesture in increasing awareness about the challenges and need for nuclear disarmament". "Calling this extremely high-level meeting focuses attention, and gains Obama international respect and credibility," she said. "The strategy was precisely to get these issues pushed up the very crowded political agendas of major leaders, and I think he has succeeded in doing that."

Jeffrey Laurenti, a foreign policy expert from The Century Foundation, a US-based think tank, said Mr Obama's prolonged presence in Manhattan yielded the "first signs of positive results" - with Russia no longer threatened by the US and "seemingly readier to tighten screws on Iran". "You also feel the dramatic isolation of the discredited Ahmadinejad government much more this year than in past years," he said, adding that council members highlighted the threat of Iran's nuclear programme without dissent.

"The US is now playing by the same rules as everybody else, which is what everybody has been asking for, creating greater solidarity for helping to stop further proliferation and deliver the vision of a nuclear-free world." @Email:jreinl@thenational.ae