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Nuclear ban treaty chair urges Japan to change approach

This photo taken in Vienna on June 23, 2022, shows the final day of the three-day inaugural meeting of parties to the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, with Austrian diplomat Alexander Kmentt, in screen, acting as president of the meeting. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The chairman of the first meeting of parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons urged Japan, the only nation that has experienced a nuclear attack, to change its stance on the treaty.

    "Of course, it's a decision of the government of Japan, and it's not at all for me to say. But, I would hope that this approach will change," Ambassador Alexander Kmentt told Kyodo News in a recent online interview. The senior Austrian diplomat chaired the three-day U.N. conference held in Vienna last month.

    Though nonsignatory countries such as Germany, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands, all of which are North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, joined the meeting as observers, Japan did not despite high expectations among survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that it would.

    Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said that as no nuclear weapon states have joined the treaty, Japan would rather promote "realistic efforts" toward a world free of nuclear weapons based on the trust between it and the United States.

    "The TPNW states parties have said very clearly that they want to be open, so we are open for engagement. So, it's nothing that we have done in the preparation of this conference that is an excuse for not participating," said Kmentt.

    "I think, if you want to be a bridge builder, you have to be taking part in the conversation," he added.

    Kishida has said that Japan will play the role of "a bridge builder" between non-nuclear weapon states supporting the TPNW and nuclear powers providing a nuclear umbrella to allies such as Japan.

    Kmentt said he saw a subtle change of stance taken by nuclear states toward the ban treaty. "It is probably slowly changing, and some of the attitude of some of the nuclear-armed states has become less antagonistic."

    "I think, definitely, the United States has been engaging more, which I think is positive. But a lot more needs to be done," Kmentt said. "It's a very distinct change, because the previous (U.S.) administration was very outspoken in trying to tell states not to ratify the TPNW."

    Kmentt welcomed the participation of the NATO states, saying, "The observer states recognize that the TPNW is an important treaty and that they want to send a constructive signal of wanting to engage in the conversation."

    He called on non-states parties to engage in discussions, saying their decision not to participate is "very short-sighted."

    "So, I felt that participation of some of the states was very positive. I wanted to refer you to, for example, the statement of Germany, which was a very good example of how a country that is, at the moment at least, not ready to join the treaty can nevertheless, express in a good way that they respect this treaty and that they are actively wanting to have a constructive dialogue."

    Kmentt also emphasized the importance of the Vienna Declaration, a consensus document of the meeting that was overshadowed by Russian threats to use nuclear weapons in the war on Ukraine.

    The states parties said in the declaration that immediate action is needed to achieve a world without nuclear weapons and that any use or threat of nuclear weapon use is a violation of international law.

    "I think it lays out in a very coherent and convincing way the rationale on which this treaty is based, the consequences, the risks, the lack of credible progress, the threat of nuclear weapons, the uncertainty that surrounds nuclear deterrence. I think this is a very strong document."

    In August, the review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, or NPT, is scheduled to be held in New York, bringing together nuclear-armed states, such as the United States, Russia and China, and non-nuclear states supportive of the TPNW.

    "We are not in a business of competition with the NPT," Kmentt said. The June meeting sent a clear message that the TPNW is complementary to the NPT and that joining the nuclear ban treaty is "the clearest manifestation of support for the NPT."

    He also urged nuclear-armed states to agree to "concrete steps" to accelerate nuclear disarmament which is required for them under the NPT.

    "One of the reasons why the TPNW came about is because exactly this step-by-step approach that the prime minister (Kishida) is mentioning simply is not working...Without any concrete steps, I think the damage, or the credibility deficit, for the NPT will just continue," he said, referring to stalled process of nuclear disarmament.

    Calling the TPNW's entry into force in January 2021 and the first meeting of states parties "key developments that have happened in the past seven years" since the last NPT review conference, Kmentt said, "it would be to the detriment of the credibility of the NPT if you don't acknowledge (that) fact, I think."

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