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Nuclear Powers To Eliminate Weapons

May 19, 2000

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The five nuclear powers agreed Thursday to eventually eliminate their nuclear arsenals, a decision hailed by several countries without such weapons.

But the agreement specified no timetable for implementation and delegates said it would take many years to achieve a nuclear-free world.

The preliminary deal could become part of a final document expected to be approved by Friday, at the conclusion of a 187-nation conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

As negotiations on other issues continuing Thursday night, even the most staunch advocates of disarmament expressed only cautious optimism over the agreement.

``I don’t count my chickens until they’re hatched,″ U.N. Undersecretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala said.

A U.S. official had no comment on the agreement, explaining that the conference documents were not yet final.

Nonetheless, the agreement on key disarmament issues, which Dhanapala called ``an important development,″ lifted the gloomy atmosphere at the four-week conference and sparked hope among delegates that a final document could be adopted by consensus.

For two years, a group of seven moderate countries without nuclear weapons known as the New Agenda Coalition has been campaigning to get the nuclear powers to make an unequivocal commitment to total nuclear disarmament _ as called for in the treaty.

When the conference started, the five original nuclear powers _ the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China _ reiterated their ``unequivocal commitment to the ultimate goals of a complete elimination of nuclear weapons and a treaty on general and complete disarmament.″

But the seven coalition members _ Mexico, Ireland, South Africa, Egypt, Sweden, New Zealand and Brazil _ rejected their statement saying ``the total elimination of nuclear weapons is an obligation and a priority and not an ultimate goal.″

After lengthy negotiations, the nuclear powers and coalition members reached agreement Thursday on ``an unequivocal undertaking ... to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.″

Darach Mac Fhionnbhairr, the top disarmament expert in Ireland’s Foreign Ministry, said the agreement is the culmination of ``a long, hard struggle″ with the nuclear weapon states.

But any prospect of total elimination is tempered by concerns about India and Pakistan, which exploded nuclear devices in 1998, and Israel, which is believed to have nuclear capabilities. The three countries, along with Cuba, are the only nations that have not signed the treaty.

India has repeatedly insisted it will not sign the NPT unless other nuclear powers first agree to a ``time-bound framework″ for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

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