UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged world governments on Friday to end the "long inertia" at the Geneva disarmament talks and free up much of the money spent on arms for use alleviating hunger, disease and other ills in impoverished nations.
A new coalition of nuclear-activist nations, meanwhile, said that moving quickly in Geneva on a treaty to shut down all production of uranium and plutonium for atomic bombs is an "essential step" toward global nuclear disarmament.
Negotiations for the long-proposed Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, currently blocked by Pakistan at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, should instead "be pursued with vigor and determination," said the statement from the 10-nation group, led by Japan and Australia and including Germany, Canada and Mexico.
Ban addressed foreign ministers at an unusual high-level meeting he convened in an effort to build political momentum for action at the Geneva talks, which White House arms-control chief Gary Samore said needed to be awakened "from its many years of slumber."
Ban noted that in the past decade world military spending had risen by 50 percent to more than $1.5 trillion. "Imagine what we could do if we devoted these resources to poverty reduction, climate change mitigation, food security, global health and other global development challenges," he said.
"Disarmament and nonproliferation are essential across the board, not simply for international peace and security."
The 65-nation, 31-year-old Conference on Disarmament, the world's only multilateral forum for nuclear arms diplomacy, has not produced anything substantial since the 1996 nuclear test-ban treaty, a pact now on hold because key nations, including the U.S., have not ratified it.
A fissile-material treaty has been proposed since the 1990s, after decades in which nuclear-weapons powers accumulated hundreds of tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium — sitting today in deployed or disused weapon warheads, in storage, in fuel stores for nuclear-powered Russian icebreakers and U.S. missile submarines, in research reactors, and elsewhere.
Experts believe there's enough material in the world for 160,000 bombs, increasingly worrying global authorities at a time when international terrorists talk of "going nuclear."
The U.S. administration of President George W. Bush had opposed negotiating a cutoff pact, arguing that it would not be verifiable, since that would require an objectionably intrusive regime.
President Barack Obama reversed that stand after taking office last year, and the Geneva conference finally agreed on an agenda. Pakistan at first allowed the process to move forward, but this year it blocked further work, its privilege under conference rules requiring a consensus of all members.
Archrival India has a larger stock of fissile material than Pakistan does, and a greater capacity to build warheads. The Islamabad government consequently wants a treaty that doesn't only cut off future production, but reduces current stocks of bomb material.
"It presents us with a clear and present danger," Pakistan's Geneva negotiator, Zamir Akram, has said of the cutoff idea.
At the moment, only Pakistan and India — and possibly Israel and North Korea — produce fissile material for weapons. The U.S., Russia and other major nuclear powers have declared unilateral moratoriums on production.
Samore, the American envoy, referred to Pakistan as a "good friend" of the U.S., but added, "It strikes us as unwarranted for a single country to abuse the consensus principle and thereby frustrate everyone else's desire to resume disarmament efforts."
Some in Geneva, including the Americans and French, suggested that a negotiating process might have to be established outside the disarmament conference to work on a fissile material treaty, an idea reiterated Friday by Samore. Anyone rejecting such talks then would become more internationally isolated.
Australia's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, proposed at Friday's session that a deadline of the end of 2011 be set for beginning of negotiations, after which a new forum be established. But representatives of Russia, China and some developing nations objected to downgrading the Conference on Disarmament.
"The authoritativeness of the CD can be replaced by no other international mechanisms," said Zhai Jun, Chinese vice foreign minister.
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