CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES PROPOSAL TO ESTABLISH AN INFORMAL WORKING GROUP TO PRODUCE A PROGRAMME OF WORK
30 July 2013
The Conference on Disarmament this morning discussed a proposal made by the Secretary-General of the Conference to establish a working group to produce a programme of work.
Ambassador Mohammad Sabir Ismail of Iraq, President of the Conference on Disarmament, said he had been consulting with Member States on a draft programme of work. Everyone was aware that this task was very difficult, but it was not impossible. It was reachable if all compromised and worked to take this forum out of this impasse. It was his intention today to devote the discussion to the first of the proposals made on 18 June by Kassim Jomart-Tokayev, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, on the establishment of an informal working group with a mandate to produce a programme of work.
Germany, United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Switzerland, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, China, Malaysia, Netherlands, France, Germany, India, Cuba, Brazil and Iran took the floor, addressing various issues related to the proposed establishment of the informal working group.
The Chairman of the Group of Governmental Experts on transparency and confidence building measures in outer space activities took the floor, as did the Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference.
The next public plenary of the Conference will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 6 August.
Ambassador MOHAMMAD SABIR ISMAIL of Iraq, President of the Conference, said he had been consulting with Member States on a draft programme of work. Everyone was aware that this task was very difficult, but it was not impossible. It was reachable if all compromised and worked to take this forum out of this impasse. The success of the Conference was a collective effort and one that could not be reached without everyone’s consensus. Agreement on a programme of work would help remove the concerns around the effectiveness of the Conference on Disarmament. He had received positive signs through his consultations as they worked toward a balanced programme of work. He conveyed his thanks to States that had shown remarkable flexibility to achieve their common goal. He would continue his consultations and would brief the Conference in a fully transparent manner.
The President said that it was his intention today to devote the discussion to the proposal made on 18 June by Kassim Jomart-Tokayev, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, on the establishment of an informal working group with a mandate to produce a programme of work that would be robust in substance and progressive over time in implementation. It was his intention to suspend the formal plenary and to move to an informal meeting in order to allow an interactive exchange of the views on the issue. Prior to this, he would give the floor to States that wished to speak in the formal plenary.
Germany said for Germany, nuclear disarmament was a foreign policy priority. Given the current situation, the focus of Germany foreign policy would be on building bridges to further foster nuclear disarmament. There were still around 17,000 nuclear warheads around the world. If this figure could be reduced, the world would be a safer place. To achieve this, bold steps forward were required for peace and security. Concerning the Conference on Disarmament, Germany attached fundamental importance to the early commencement of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material. Germany considered negotiations on such a treaty to be a sensible building block towards nuclear disarmament and a world without nuclear weapons and an important non-proliferation instrument. Germany strongly believed that first steps for the revitalization of the Conference on Disarmament should be urgently supported.
United Kingdom said that the United Kingdom remained committed to a step by step approach to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons, and to following up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 2010 Action Plan. The United Kingdom took seriously its disarmament obligations and did not see replacing its minimum deterrent as being inconsistent with these obligations. In the Conference, the United Kingdom remained committed to engaging on all four of the Conference’s core issues, placing highest priority on the negotiations of a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Everyone should do what they could to ensure that the Conference regained its relevancy. The United Kingdom recognized the challenges in securing a programme of work and would continue to engage instructively and be open to reforms that improved the Conference’s effectiveness. The United Kingdom would support the establishment of a working group to examine the elements needed for a consensus programme of work and the establishment of a working group to look at the working methods of the CD, including its membership.
United States said the United States shared the desire of many to see the Conference get down to substantive work and, in particular negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. CD 1864 was still the one programme of work that commanded consensus and it remained the touchstone for a balanced and comprehensive approach. The United States had also welcomed efforts to craft a new programme of work that would command consensus and encouraged the efforts of the President. Should such a programme of work be identified, and adopted, the United States hoped that it could carry the Conference forward into 2014. The United States also welcomed the opportunity to address Secretary-General Tokayev’s proposal on the establishment of an informal working group to produce a programme of work. The United States believed the duration of any informal working group should be limited to the 2013 session of the Conference, but hoped that, if they were able to develop an acceptable programme of work during the session, it would also be acceptable at the outset of the 2014 session of the Conference.
Australia welcomed all efforts to reach a programme of work. Australia was under no illusion about the complexity of the task of the President. If it was clear that there was no consensus, maybe it would be of benefit to pause and consider the situation. Concerning the proposal of the Secretary-General of the Conference on establishing a working group on a programme of work, maybe refreshing the manner through which the Conference approached its work could help the Conference. Australia believed that the mandate of this working group, if agreed, should extend beyond the 2013 session of the Conference.
Switzerland said the adoption of a programme of work was the best way to move in the direction of the revitalization of the Conference and welcomed the President’s decision to devote this plenary to the proposal of the Secretary-General of the Conference made on 18 June to set up an informal working group in order to produce a programme of work. Switzerland had earlier stressed the importance of studying this proposal in depth. The setting up of such an informal working group was timely for several reasons. After being paralyzed for more than 15 years, the Conference owed it to itself to explore new approaches if it wished to overcome the deadlock. Also, the length of time of the presidency often did not help in carrying out extended consultations over time. The fact that the President alone had the responsibility to draw up a programme of work did not make it possible to overcome the deadlock, and might even contribute to this. An informal working group could favour an interactive dialogue. Switzerland supported that the working group should have a clear and simple mandate to establish a programme of work. It should report to the President. The suggestion that the mandate of the working group would not stop at the end of the current session was also interesting as this would send out a strong signal that the Conference had decided to find a way out of this deadlock. Elaborating a programme of work was of the highest priority for Switzerland. There were other proposals that the Secretary-General had pointed out like setting up a subsidiary body to look at their methods of work.
Indonesia welcomed the proposal of the Secretary-General of the Conference. Indonesia could go along with the President’s non-paper on the proposal as it was fair and pragmatic. Indonesia underlined the importance for Member States to have a shared responsibility to formulate a programme of work. It should no longer be the sole responsibility of the President, rather all Member States should engage in the process. The working group should not be restricted to the 2013 session. It was sensible for the working group to start working in November and December and for the Conference to consider extending it beyond 2013. The mandate of the working group should be determined by the Conference, and the Chair of the group should consult and report to the President in a regular manner. It was Indonesia’s hope that the Conference would be able to resume its substantive work and hoped that they could unlock the impasse.
Republic of Korea said he wanted first to listen to the President before talking about the position of the Republic of Korea. He was fully eager to support the work of the President and the Secretary-General of the Conference.
Russian Federation said the Conference had to make a major effort to agree on a programme of work. Russia welcomed the President’s efforts, although he had not circulated his draft programme of work. Russia was firmly convinced that adopting a programme of work was the only possible way to restore the authority of this forum and ensure its survival. There had been no consensus on various proposals made by several Presidents, which Russia had been willing to support. Russia had also circulated its version of a programme of work. The concept of a simplified programme of work for discussion as a temporary measure was of extreme interest to Russia. It hoped Member States would make a responsible decision. Russia also welcomed the efforts of the Secretary-General of the Conference to overcome the stagnation and begin work in this forum. Russia agreed with him that the Conference on Disarmament must be saved by common efforts. Creating an informal working group to establish a programme of work was very timely and it should be able to find a programme of work. Methods of work and other procedural questions should be of secondary importance. The mandate of the working group should be formulated in a general manner.
China said in recent years, quite a number of proposals on revitalizing the Conference had been made. China appreciated that the Secretary-General of the Conference had put forward several proposals and supported all efforts which may facilitate reaching a consensus. However, the rule of consensus should be preserved and respected and views of all Member States should be duly respected. China took note of the mandate of the working group in the President’s non-paper and it would be taking part in the discussions on this. However, some issues needed to be carefully studied, including how the President of the Conference on Disarmament and the Chair of the working group would work together. The overall objective should be for everyone to make all efforts to reach a programme of work. China was ready to work together with all parties to seek solutions. China supported multilateral disarmament work which would contribute to international and regional peace and security.
Malaysia said that the unfortunate continuing impasse in the Conference reflected the lack of serious commitment towards achieving the goal of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Malaysia welcomed the proposal by the Secretary-General on the establishment of an informal working group with a mandate to produce a programme of work. However, any effort to produce a programme of work would be futile if there was a lack of commitment and sincerity among Member States in agreeing to such document. This informal working group would not be agreed upon by all delegations if there was no degree of flexibility shown by delegations in ensuring substantive progress in the Conference. Malaysia felt that the red lines were already clear in the Conference and the challenge now was how to manoeuvre the Conference out of this predicament without crossing these red lines.
They had to be optimistic, and even if the informal working group could not agree to a specific programme of work, it would be beneficial if it could deliberate on the factors that prevented the Conference from agreeing to a programme of work and to suggest ways to overcome these stumbling blocks. The November-December period suggested for the meetings of the working group was acceptable. Malaysia also welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a subsidiary body to discuss improvement of the working methods of the Conference, and the proposal of a special coordinator to examine the expansion of the membership of the Conference
Netherlands said that establishing a working group might be worth exploring because it would make them all responsible for the programme of work and not just the President. The Netherlands had expressed many times that the issue of fissile material had the most support to start negotiating on, and a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty should be addressed in the programme of work.
France said France appreciated the proposal by the Secretary-General of the Conference to set up a working group to establish a programme of work. For France, the priority was to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and this working group was a good opportunity to negotiate a programme of work that would allow them to bring about consensus in the Conference.
Germany apologized for taking the floor again. Germany appreciated the proposal of the Secretary-General of the Conference and supported the President’s decision to devote this plenary to discuss the proposal. Germany supported the establishment of the working group. It was also time for the Conference to review its methods of work and procedures and to look at its rules. The discussion concerning the mandate of the working group should not be an impediment to establish the working group and should not take too long. The working group would provide a higher degree of transparency, which was a desirable goal in itself.
India thanked the Secretary-General of the Conference for his interest in promoting the substantive work of the Conference. Today, the informal debate would give them more material for reflection. India wondered if these proposals could take them closer to multilateral negotiations on nuclear disarmament and a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. India was ready to look at any proposals from that perspective. India agreed with the Secretary-General that they needed a programme of work that was robust in substance and progressive over time in its implementation. However, concerning the working group, this specific instrumentality needed to be looked at from the angle of rule 29 of the rules of procedure, which stated that the agenda and the programme of work shall be drawn up by the President of the Conference. India did not want anything preventing the President from working on his prerogative to work on a programme of work. As for the issue of continuity, India noted that some said the work of this working group should be carried over from 2013. The rules of procedures of the Conference provided the specific possibility to such continuity through specific rules that they were obliged to take into account when they opened the 2014 session. The same was true for inclusivity. India believed that the best way to revitalize the Conference was to allow it to resume its substantive work and it would work to this end.
Cuba thanked the President for convening this plenary to exchange ideas on the Secretary-General’s proposal. Cuba was certain that the ideas would be useful to continue the discussion on the Secretary-General’s proposal. Cuba was carefully studying these proposals. However, they must not make premature decisions. This was the summer period and many would be absent from Geneva. This would slow down the decision making process. Cuba would continue to study these proposals and hoped that in coming weeks they would be able to reach a position. The principle of consensus was important and it must be preserved. The President could count on Cuba’s complete cooperation.
Brazil said the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a working group to agree on a programme of work might have two advantages and they had been mentioned before. One of them was continuity. The way in which the Conference proceeded now, with each President starting from scratch, without moving forward on what their predecessors had done, was not conducive to their work. Brazil also recognized that there were procedural hurdles, but believed that they could be overcome. This was also a good proposal because it would help with transparency. Brazil would have to carefully look at the way to surmount the procedural hurdles, but believed that this was the right approach.
Iran said it appreciated the President’s diligent efforts and consultations. Iran also appreciated the proposal of the Secretary-General of the Conference aimed at the revitalization of the Conference. Iran attached great importance to the Conference as the sole negotiating body on disarmament and supported all efforts to help it start its substantive work, with the priority being nuclear disarmament. Iran had received the President’s non-paper outlining Mr. Tokayev’s proposal in establishing a working group to produce a programme of work and had submitted it to its capital and was awaiting instructions. These were very complicated issues that needed in-depth analysis and delegations had to be given time. The main question was how they could fit this proposal in the rules of procedure of the Conference. According to the rules of procedure, the adoption of a programme of work was the main task of the President of the Conference. Establishing this working group with a different Chair than the President may create conflicting responsibility and would require the President to relinquish or delegate the majority of his or her responsibility. It would not fit well in the rules of procedure. Concerning inclusiveness, the consensus rule provided enough assurances for all members to be fully involved in any decisions. On continuity, there was the P-6 and coordination between them on different proposals. Iran was open to further examining this proposal and its different consequences with regard to the rules of procedure.
VICTOR VASILIEV, Russian Federation, Chair of the Group of Governmental Experts on transparency and confidence building in outer space activities, informed the Conference about the outcome of the work of the Group, which had been established pursuant to General Assembly resolution 65/68. He said that the Group of Governmental Experts had adopted by consensus its study, which contained a number of voluntary measures recommended for the implementation at unilateral, regional and multilateral level. In the study, the members of the Group had agreed upon a series of transparency and confidence-building measures for outer space activities and had recommended them for the implementation by States and international organizations. The Secretary-General's report containing the study of the Group of Governmental Experts would be considered by the General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session and the Assembly would decide on how to advance the implementation and further development of these transparency and confidence-building measures. The Group further recommended that coordination should be established between the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and other United Nations entities involved in outer space activities. The Chair also asserted the relevance of the Group of Governmental Experts’ outcome for the work of the Conference which, once a programme of work was adopted, would be able to undertake the issue of transparency and confidence-building measures in the context of its agenda item on prevention of an arms race in outer space.
Ambassador MOHAMMAD SABIR ISMAIL of Iraq, President of the Conference, said he wished to share the fruitful ideas and proposals regarding establishment of an informal working group. He would consider all presented comments and remarks and they would be taken into consideration when they would consult with Member States on these important issues.
JARMO SAREVA, Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference, with reference to the debate that they had had today and the applicability of the rules of procedure of the Conference, gave a piece of advice that the secretariat always gave in similar situations and in any other body that had its own rules of procedure and was not subsidiary to a parent body. He said that although the Conference reported to the General Assembly, which approved funding for the Conference, it was an independent body with its rules of procedure and was, therefore, master of its own procedure. When not subsidiary to a higher authority, an intergovernmental body such as the CD was master of its own procedure. What that meant was that if there was agreement - the Conference had to work by consensus - as long as it was politically possible, if something was seen as contrary to the letter or spirit of the rules of procedure, the Conference could take its procedures in its own hands. It was ultimately up to the Member States to decide by consensus, if there was agreement by all, then the Conference could amend or improvise on these rules of procedure. He was not saying that this was what the Conference should do, but this was the advice that the secretariat was obliged to give.
For use of the information media; not an official record