DIPLOMATS FROM MORE than 100 states are expected to convene for nearly two weeks beginning April 26 to assess what future measures might be taken to shore up the beleaguered nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In anticipation, U.S. President George W. Bush and Mohamed ElBaradei, the United Nations' top nuclear expert, met in mid-March to discuss possible proposals.
Although the nuclear nonproliferation regime was recently buoyed by Libya's December 2003 renunciation of its nuclear weapons program, the exposure of illicit Iranian nuclear activities and the disclosure of Abdul Qadeer Khan's black market nuclear network highlighted the regime's ills.
With the help of the Pakistani-based Khan network, NPT states-parties Libya and Iran pursued secret nuclear work for years without being caught. North Korea, which announced its withdrawal from the NPT last year, also conducted nuclear-related dealings with Khan. ( see ACT, March 2004.)
These revelations have spurred calls for reform from Washington, other world capitals, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for making sure states do not illegally use their peaceful nuclear programs to build atomic bombs covertly.
At Washington's invitation, ElBaradei, the IAEA director-general, visited the United States March 15-18 to discuss proposals for remedying the ailing nonproliferation regime. ElBaradei met with Bush, top officials from the CIA and the Departments of Energy and State, and members of Congress.
ElBaradei summed up his message to the president in a March 18 PBS interview as "[T]his is a different ball game and we have to revise the rules."
Possible revisions discussed at the meetings included cleaning up and securing weapons-usable material worldwide, strengthening export controls, and denying uraniumenrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies to states that do not have them. Currently, 15 states possess such capabilities, which are legal under the NPT but necessary for making nuclear weapons. ElBaradei does not want to see that total grow.
Although Bush and ElBaradei share many of the same concerns and believe that the threat of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons demands that the past rules of the nonproliferation regime be updated, they have yet to announce a set of agreed specific proposals or general strategy.
Both men have laid out initiatives separately: Bush in a Feb. 11 speech at the National Defense University and ElBaradei in a series of written pieces and interviews. ( see ACT, March 2004 and November 2003.) Bush's proposals have stressed getting individual states to do a better job of clamping down on their own nuclear materials and technologies, while ElBaradei has urged that states subject their nuclear programs to more stringent multinational controls. There is some overlap, such as ending the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) …