The United States already is acknowledging that delegates from 189 countries gathering next week to review a treaty designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons are unlikely to reach consensus.
The Obama administration, nevertheless, is hoping to use the conference to build support for strengthening the treaty and to isolate Iran.
U.S. officials have been tempering expectations for the U.N. conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because all the treaty's signatories must agree to any action. Those include Iran, which is flouting U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to force the country to curb nuclear energy programs that could lead to a bomb.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hoping to thwart U.S. progress on strengthening the treaty, is expected to address the delegates ahead of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday, the opening day of the conference at the United Nations.
Recognizing that Iran and its allies probably will stand in the way of any U.S.-backed statement on reinforcing the pact, the United States wants to rally delegates against Tehran. The White House hopes to cap the monthlong conference with a statement backed by most of the countries that would demand stricter enforcement, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The Americans hope the agreed-upon statement will build momentum for further action.
"It is not about a final communique or a product that comes out other than an ambition to move forward together on doing the things that we believe we can reach consensus on," Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher told reporters Friday.
Administration officials say they feel confident that the conference will not get bogged down in discord, as the last gathering did in 2005. They say that the United States is going into the conference with credibility from recent successes in disarmament and nuclear threat reduction.
The meeting comes a month after President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed a deal specifying significant new cuts in their countries' nuclear arsenals. Weeks later, Obama was host to a meeting of world leaders on nuclear security.
The administration is likely to be criticized, however, for its failure to see progress on U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The administration now concedes that treaty is unlikely to be considered by the Senate for ratification this year. Its prospects for ratification already were uncertain and are unlikely to improve after expected losses in the Senate by Obama's Democratic Party in November's elections.
The Senate must ratify treaties.
U.S. officials believe Ahmadinejad is unlikely to win new support during his trip to New York. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also was expressing skepticism. He told reporters he was "unaware of any concrete ideas" Ahmadinejad might have for resolving worries about his nuclear program but urged the Iranian president nonetheless to show up with a constructive proposal.
"The onus is on you," Ban said, referring to Ahmadinejad, "and you have not satisfied the requirements of the international community that your nuclear development program is for peaceful purposes, as you claim."
While Iran can block action at the review conference, U.S. officials point out, it cannot block decisions against Iran by the Security Council or moves by U.N. nuclear inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency to be more aggressive. Perhaps overshadowing the conference, negotiations are intensifying among the five permanent Security Council members on new sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear defiance.
Obama's administration says it would like to see momentum at the conference toward strengthening the IAEA with more authority and resources. Clinton was expected to announce new U.S. funding for the Vienna-based agency on Monday. The Americans also want signatories to agree to punish countries that try to withdraw from the treaty to avoid punitive measures. For instance, North Korea withdrew in 2003 after expelling all IAEA inspectors from its territory.
Susan Burk, the Obama administration's special envoy on issues related to the treaty, told reporters Friday that the administration has a long-term approach to strengthening the treaty.
"The real work of strengthening the regime is not going to happen next week," she said. "It is going to happen in the months and the years to come."
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