Obama to chair historic U.N. council nuclear meeting

Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:42am EDT

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama will chair a historic meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that is expected to ask nations with nuclear weapons to scrap their deadly arsenals.

When the leaders of the 15-nation council gather at U.N. headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Obama will preside over the meeting, the first time a U.S. president has chaired a Security Council summit since the elite panel was established in 1946.

Diplomats said council members were expected to unanimously adopt a U.S.-drafted resolution that declares there is a “need to pursue further efforts in the sphere of nuclear disarmament” and urges all countries that have not signed the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to do so.

The council meeting, which takes place on the second day of the annual U.N. General Assembly session, will be the fifth time the Security Council has met at the level of heads of state and government. It will also be the first council summit to focus exclusively on nuclear proliferation and disarmament.

The first Security Council summit was on January 31, 1992, and was chaired by British Prime Minister John Major. U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin, president of the newly created Russian Federation, were among the participants.

The resolution calls for an end to the proliferation of atomic weapons and demands that parties to the NPT keep their promises not to develop atomic warheads. The final draft, obtained by Reuters, has only undergone minor changes since it was circulated to the council two weeks ago.

All five permanent Security Council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — have atom bombs.

But NPT signatories without nuclear arsenals have complained for decades that the world’s official nuclear powers have failed to live up to their commitments while seeking to prevent other countries from joining the “nuclear club.”

“It’s 40 years of nuclear discrimination,” said a senior diplomat from a developing nation on condition of anonymity.

NO MENTION OF IRAN AND NORTH KOREA

Diplomats and analysts say the U.S. decision to organize the summit highlights the sharp shift on disarmament policy taken by the Obama administration. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, angered many NPT members by ignoring disarmament commitments made by previous U.S. governments, analysts say.

The resolution also urges “other states” outside the NPT to join disarmament efforts to help rid the world of atom bombs.

The “other” nuclear states — referred to but not named in the resolution — are Pakistan and India, which have not signed the NPT but are known to have atomic arsenals, and Israel, which neither confirms nor denies having nuclear arms but is presumed to have a sizable stockpile of warheads.

North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and tested its first nuclear devices in 2006 and another earlier this year.

The draft also calls on U.N. member states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would outlaw all nuclear tests and to support negotiations on a pact banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. The CTBT is the focus of a two-day U.N. conference beginning on Thursday.

The two countries that the United States and other Western powers have singled out as the biggest proliferation threats — Iran and North Korea — are not named in the resolution.

But diplomats said it was clear they are the states the council has in mind in the draft resolution when it speaks of “current major challenges to the non-proliferation regime.”

While the council meeting is the top U.N. event on Thursday, at least two speakers are expected to have a captive audience during the General Assembly — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Nuclear issues were high on the agenda when Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held a bilateral meeting in New York. Both leaders spoke about Russian-U.S. plans for a new bilateral treaty on reducing their nuclear arms stockpiles.

Obama and Medvedev also said they spoke at length about Iran’s nuclear program on Wednesday. The two leaders agreed that Tehran may have to face a fourth round of U.N. sanctions if it refuses to heed international demands that it freeze sensitive nuclear work and fails to cooperate with U.N. inspectors.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not directly refer to Tehran’s nuclear program in his speech to the General Assembly. But in an interview with the Washington Post he said Iran would ask Washington to sell it enriched uranium at upcoming talks with the United States and five other powers and that he would let Iranian atomic scientists meet U.S. experts.

Senior officials from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China will meet with an Iranian delegation in Geneva on October 1 to discuss Iran’s nuclear program.

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