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UN disarmament confab to be postponed 1 year due to coronavirus

This photo taken in September 2018 shows the United Nations flag in New York. (Getty/Kyodo)

NEW YORK/VIENNA (Kyodo) -- A U.N. conference on nuclear disarmament slated to be held from late April will likely be pushed back one year, diplomatic sources said Thursday, the latest international gathering to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

    The review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty had been set to take place from April 27 to May 22 in New York, marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark agreement taking effect.

    But the spread of the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization has characterized as a "pandemic," has forced a change in plans.

    The sources said an alternative option is downsizing the review conference and moving it to August, but that was less likely because it would conflict with other planned nuclear disarmament gatherings. A decision on the postponement will be made in the coming days.

    Some 190 countries have signed the treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology, promoting cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and achieving nuclear disarmament.

    The Non-Aligned Movement of 120 member states decided Thursday to recommend postponing the review conference to April and May next year, saying it is too important to hold on a smaller scale.

    The United Nations has already begun scaling back meetings and U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a 30-day travel ban for Europe, where coronavirus cases are continuing to rise at an alarming rate.

    Held every five years, the review conference provides a platform for nuclear weapons states such as the United States, Russia and China to hold discussions with non-nuclear weapons states.

    But there has been a growing rift between members who in 2015 were unable to adopt a consensus document amid a disagreement over whether to declare the Middle East a "nuclear weapons-free zone."

    The review conference is also an opportunity for aging survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to spread their pacifist message.

    "(The postponement) is unfortunate, but what can you do against an infectious disease?" said Sueichi Kido, secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, which planned activities in the United States including atomic bomb survivors' accounts of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

    "The hibakusha are elderly and many have pre-existing conditions, so we can't put them at risk," the 80-year-old Kido said.

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