More than 100 nations concluding a round of global nuclear talks Friday expressed alarm that many nuclear weapons are kept at a high-alert level and are still being modernized, despite a promise to get rid of them.
The statement was, in effect, a complaint about — and by — some of the most powerful members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, since the U.S. and Russia were included in it. They are known to possess most of the world's hundreds of launch-ready ballistic missiles that can be ordered to quickly deliver their payload, a nuclear warhead.
The 1970 treaty meant to stop the spread of nuclear weapons was extended indefinitely in 1995, but that doesn't mean some countries could possess nuclear arms indefinitely, the statement said. The treaty has been credited with stopping their spread of nuclear weapons to dozens of nations since its adoption.
"We heard clearly the message from friends around the world that they wish to see a faster pace on reduction of nuclear weapons in the world," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman, head of the American delegation, said in acknowledging the concerns. But, he added, there has been "actual progress" toward that goal by the U.S. and other nuclear-armed nations.
Many nations "stressed that they remain deeply concerned at the maintenance of many nuclear weapons on a high alert level," said a chairman's lengthy summary of the talks. It also noted worries "over the continued modernization of nuclear weapons, their delivery systems and related infrastructure."
The Geneva session, chaired by Romania's Ambassador Cornel Feruta, drew 106 of the 190 nations that have joined the treaty, along with five international organizations and 53 non-governmental organizations.
Nations have "reaffirmed their commitment to the NPT and underlined their resolve to seek a safer world for all and to achieve the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," according to a brief statement released at the conclusion of the talks.
As they prepared for the next major review of the pact in 2015, much of the two weeks of talks in Geneva revolved around Iran's nuclear programs — which it insists are for peaceful purposes — and on North Korea, which has undertaken provocative tests. Iran is a member of the treaty, but Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not.
Countryman called it regrettable that Egypt walked out in protest Monday, a reflection both of Arab frustration and the state of domestic politics in Cairo, after complaining that other nations are not acting quickly enough to establish the Middle East as a zone free of nuclear weapons.
But he said it was still possible that talks could resume soon on the global of establishing the Middle East as a no-nuke zone, a goal set at the 1995 review conference on the treaty. A statement from Egypt's foreign ministry had said the nation was impatient that the zone has yet to be created.