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NPT review preparatory committee talks get under way at UN

The third and final session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference begins in New York, on April 29, 2019. (Kyodo)

NEW YORK (Kyodo) -- The third and final session of the preparatory committee for the 2020 review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty opened Monday at the U.N. headquarters, with increasing global tensions likely to pose challenges in the lead-up to next year's discussions.

As the session begins there are numerous sources of friction, including between nuclear possessor states, namely the United States and Russia, in light of President Donald Trump's announcement in February of a U.S. withdrawal from a bilateral nuclear arms control treaty that dates back to 1987.

The withdrawal, presented as a response to alleged violations by Moscow, has sparked concern about a new arms race that could also involve other nations such as China.

Izumi Nakamitsu, the U.N. undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs, encouraged member states to seek dialogue and negotiations at the session, which ends on May 10, despite the various challenges contributing to global uncertainty.

"The external environment weighs heavily on your proceedings and finding common ground might not be easy, (but) you will not find points of convergence if you are rigid and inflexible in your positions," she warned.

"They must be sought through real dialogue and negotiation in good faith, guided by your common strategic interests in the security benefits of the NPT."

She also noted that, due to recent developments in the international security environment, "states are diverging even on previously agreed principles and objectives," and expressed concern over "an increased emphasis on the value of nuclear weapons."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford also stressed the importance of the preparatory committee, saying that "this was the last chance" for the parties to "come together to prepare" vital work for the review conference.

He warned, however, that proceedings should not become bogged down with procedural matters, such as selecting the next chair, but should focus on laying the groundwork for 2020 whereby member states can recommit to the NPT, as well as "rededicate ourselves to preserving and strengthening (it) for future generations."

"We are developing a new dialogue exploring ways to ameliorate conditions in the security environment that impede progress toward a future safely and sustainably free of nuclear weapons," he added, noting how Washington had reduced its nuclear arsenal by 88 percent since the height of the Cold War.

Russia also spoke through its delegation head, claiming that the dismantling of the INF Treaty "takes us 30 years back" in the field of arms control and in the nuclear and missile areas.

Oleg Rozhkov, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry's Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, also expressed concerns over the fate of the New START treaty, which expires in two years. "We do not want the New START Treaty to befall the fate of the INF Treaty," he added.

He also stated the outcome of the current session "will have a major defining impact" on next year's conference and that it was important to "create grounds" for the review of the treaty's three aims -- nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, China's head of delegation and Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs Fu Cong, took aim at the current threats to multilateralism that underpin the treaty itself, although he did not single out the United States by name.

"The pursuit of unilateralism, hyping up of big power competition and geopolitical rivalry, and the quest for absolute military advantage by (a) certain country have continued to worsen the international security environment and impacted global strategic stability," he said. The envoy went on to suggest that the parties should "strictly adhere" to multilateralism in order to uphold the treaty's objectives, narrow their differences and advance the review process.

Japan's Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Kiyoto Tsuji also addressed the meeting. He pointed out the importance of the 2020 review conference which is set to take place 50 years after the treaty's entry into force and 75 years after nuclear weapons were first used in combat.

While also concerned about the "deteriorating security environment" which has exacerbated the differences in views on disarmament, Tsuji stressed the importance of all parties finding common ground and seeking concrete, collaborative steps toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

"Japan reaffirms its strong commitment to working with the international community in order to achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges as well as related programs and facilities in accordance with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions," he said.

Malaysia's Ambassador Syed Mohamad Hasrin Aidid is the chairman of the third session. He is expected to make a chairman's summary and, insofar as consensus allows, present recommendations for the 2020 iteration of the NPT review, a monthlong conference held every five years.

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