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Nuke ban treaty likely to be adopted in July, without nuclear powers

A conference on a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons is held at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, on March 27, 2017. (Mainichi)

NEW YORK -- A United Nations conference to negotiate a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons wrapped up here on March 31, with treaty provisions taking shape in the absence of nuclear powers and making it likely for the pact to be adopted during the second round of talks scheduled in June-July.

The first round of the conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, which opened at the U.N. Headquarters on March 27, was joined by at least 115 non-nuclear countries and over 220 citizens groups, discussing treaty provisions and other details, while nuclear powers and their allies under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, including Japan, abstained.

Conference President Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica said the draft of the treaty would be presented in late May at the earliest after compiling opinions voiced by delegates. She lauded conference participants for making serious and in-depth discussions and suggested putting the treaty to a vote on July 7, the final day of the second round of talks scheduled to start on June 15.

However, the treaty may face criticism over its viability because if the treaty provisions become stricter, there would be less possibility for nuclear powers to take part in the pact.

With countries turning their back on the treaty absent, participating countries could nonetheless deepen their debate, giving shape to the treaty under the shared cause of outlawing nuclear arms. Many delegates called for ultimately aiming for nuclear abolition by spelling out the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons in the treaty, and for banning the use, production, possession, stockpiling and experiments of nuclear arms. The treaty may also likely prohibit supporting, encouraging, financing and investing in parties that are engaged in activities banned under the pact.

Furthermore, the treaty is expected to touch on the suffering of survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and include provisions calling for support for victims of nuclear blasts.

Following the closure of the conference, Thomas Hajnoczi, the permanent representative of Austria to the U.N. in Geneva, who played a leading role in the five-day negotiations, looked pleased, saying that the delegates have achieved what they needed to achieve. He said that he hoped the treaty will include the term "hibakusha," a Japanese word for those exposed to radiation, in its preamble and that he was lobbying other countries participating in the negotiations to support the idea. Because no countries have opposed to his proposal, he said the term will likely make it into the treaty. The term "hibakusha" used here does not only refer to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing survivors, but also those who were exposed to radiation from nuclear tests around the world.

In the meantime, the conference once again highlighted the serious confrontation between the nuclear haves and have-nots, with the irreconcilable schism already evident at the outset of the conference.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley appeared in front of the U.N. General Assembly Hall at 10 a.m. on March 27, the opening time for the conference, and slammed delegates who were entering the venue, asking, "Do they really understand the threats that we have?"

She said if "bad actors" like North Korea were allowed to possess nuclear weapons while countries seeking to maintain peace and security are not, they would not be able to protect their people. She was flanked by delegates from Britain and France -- both nuclear powers -- and their allies that are dependent on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, including South Korea. Japan, the world's only atomic-bombed country, abstained from the negotiations after its envoy delivered a speech against the treaty on the opening day of the conference.

Curtis Raynold, who has worked for the U.N. for over 30 years, said he had never seen such a dramatic showdown between nuclear powers and non-nuclear countries.

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