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Nuclear test ban monitor official urges N. Korea to ratify CTBT

VIENNA -- Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) Lassina Zerbo welcomed North Korea's announcement to close its nuclear test site, saying that "if effective it is certainly a sign that we are going in the right direction," in a recent exclusive interview here with the Mainichi Shimbun.

Zerbo said that Pyongyang should join the CTBT and return to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a "confidence building measure."

"When you announce that you are not doing nuclear testing anymore and you announce that you are on the path to denuclearization, one thing that could get the attention of the international community is to act on legally-binding agreement," said Zerbo, who heads the Vienna-based body promoting the test ban treaty so that the international accord will take effect.

Zerbo showed strong expectations for the CTBT and the NPT to be discussed at the upcoming summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on May 22 in Washington, D.C., and at the historic meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that is expected to be held by early June.

Zerbo highly praised the "Panmunjom Declaration" signed by Moon and Kim in their summit meeting on April 27, which called for a "complete denuclearization."

"That's what we want. It was a surprise to everyone, that's what we can say, but a great surprise." He added, however, that "what we have to see is how the words can be accompanied by action ... and one of the actions is to see, down the line, the consideration by the DPRK (North Korea) to sign and ratify the CTBT."

Zerbo said his commission is "ready" to assist the North if the country decided to proceed with signing and ratification of the test ban treaty. "We are ready ... to support countries that are seeking our assistance. We've been doing that all the time," he said.

Zerbo said that the CTBTO preparatory commission can also assist Pyongyang if the country needs cooperation for the dismantling of its nuclear test site as the commission has state-of-the-art technical expertise required for such a mission.

The CTBT has not been ratified by eight countries, including nuclear powers such as the United States and China, whose participation is mandatory for the treaty to take effect. If the North decided to join the treaty, that action could pressure these eight countries to join others.

"North Korea's possible ratification would be a dream come true for me and for the friends of the CTBT," Zerbo said, indicating hopes for Pyongyang's future moves.

Libya ratified the CTBT in 2004 after the country abandoned its nuclear weapons program that year under strong pressure from the international community. Iraq followed suit in 2013, advancing the path for denuclearization.

North Korea, which is not even a signatory to the CTBT, withdrew from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog on the misuse of nuclear technology, in 1994. The country also declared its departure from the NPT.

The CTBT was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996 and bans all nuclear explosion tests in the air, water or under the ground. For the treaty to take effect, 44 countries must ratify it. At present, eight of those countries -- including North Korea -- have not ratified the treaty. Regardless, it remains one of the most widely participated international treaties, with 183 signatory countries and 166 states having ratified it. Japan has signed and ratified the treaty.

(Japanese original by Koji Miki, Vienna Bureau)

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