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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES DRAFT PROGRAMME OF WORK

China Briefs the Conference on the Eighth Formal P5 Conference in Beijing
5 February 2019

The Conference on Disarmament this morning continued discussions and deliberations on a draft programme of work that the President of the Conference presented on 29 January. China briefed the Conference on the meeting of the P5 – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – held in Beijing on 30 January, and several delegations made statements in relation to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Ambassador Yurii Klymenko of Ukraine, President of the Conference, said that comments that delegations would provide on the draft programme of work, in formal and informal settings, would be incorporated in the new draft to be circulated by Friday, 8 February.

China said that the eighth formal P5 Conference in Beijing was the first such conference in over two years. It had focused on the P5 coordination, preserving the non-proliferation regime, and maintaining international peace and security, which were facing serious challenges. Despite some differences on specific issues, the P5 were able to have an in-depth exchange of views in the spirit of mutual respect and in a frank and pragmatic manner, had reached consensus on many issues, and had identified the direction for future cooperation.

The United States recalled that its decision to suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as of 1 February was motivated by Russia’s material breaches of that treaty, and said that the onus of preserving the treaty was on Russia. Russia said that its President had declared that Russia would not deploy intermediate range or short range weapons in Europe or elsewhere until the United States weapons of this kind were deployed elsewhere in the world.

Egypt said that a priority for the Conference should be the achievement of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention to realize the full and irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons. Ireland remarked that the draft programme of work was timely as the announcements by the United States and Russia that they were suspending their obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty had reminded of the fragility of disarmament and non-proliferation agreements. France said that the priority should be given to launching negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which was the subject ripe for negotiation and the next logical step in disarmament. Indonesia pointed to a need to raise the awareness of the work of the Conference among other stakeholders, including youth, women, civil society and academia, and proposed an event in 2019 to commemorate the Conference’s fortieth anniversary.

Mexico welcomed the serious commitment of the P5 to contribute to the maintaining of international peace and security, especially at this time. South Africa, in reference to the draft programme of work, remarked that the perfect should not become the enemy of the good, and that a consensus on a programme of work and the beginning of negotiations was of ultimate priority. Zimbabwe welcomed the draft’s ambition and warned that the issues before the Conference were not amendable to quick-fix solutions. Argentina welcomed the reference to the United Nations Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda and said that if a consensus on a programme of work would not be possible, the Conference should resume the work of the subsidiary bodies set up in 2018. Iran highly valued any proposal aimed at breaking the deadlock in the Conference, especially given the current sabre rattling and in the shadow of a new arms race, and was deeply concerned about recent developments in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The United States reaffirmed its commitment to the consensus principle and said that the examination of the rules concerning the alphabetic rotation of presidencies and the expansion of the membership should be included in the draft. Canada remarked that the draft programme of work proposed multiple negotiations at the same time, and was concerned that not all the issues were ready for negotiation; starting several negotiations at the same time would strain the capacity of many delegations, including Canada. Brazil supported the call to examine working methods, including the duration of presidencies, continuation from one year to another, and the expansion of membership, which was a necessity.

The Conference will hold its next public plenary on Thursday, 7 February at 3 p.m. in room VII, to hold a video conference with the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu.

Statements

YURII KLYMENKO, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in his opening remarks, said that the Conference would discuss the draft programme of work circulated on 29 January, and reassured delegations that he would provide all Member States and regional groups with an opportunity to share their comments. Those would be incorporated in a new draft to be circulated by Friday, 8 February.

China briefed the Conference on the eighth formal Conference of the P5 – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States, held on 30 January in Beijing. It was the first one in over two years and had focused on the P5 coordination and preserving the non-proliferation regime. The P5 had undertaken to jointly maintain international peace and security, which were facing serious challenges, conduct an objective assessment of each other’s strategic objectives, enhance dialogue on nuclear policies and doctrines, and make utmost efforts to prevent nuclear risks, especially those resulting from miscalculation and misperception. They had undertaken to jointly safeguard the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, a cornerstone of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, and reiterated the commitment to abide by all it provisions and promote its universality. The P5 had agreed to enhance coordination and dialogue through the P5 process, maintain strategic dialogue on nuclear policies and doctrines, and explore follow-up measures through Ambassadors of Disarmament in Geneva. Despite some differences on specific issues, the P5 were able to have an in-depth exchange of views in the spirit of mutual respect and in a frank and pragmatic manner, had reached consensus on many issues, and had identified the direction for future cooperation.

United States recalled that its decision to suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on 1 February was motivated by Russia’s material breaches of that treaty, and its lack of action to address concerns. The United States stressed that it retained the possibility to return to the treaty within the next six months if Russia showed compliance, which required a complete and verifiable destruction of the 9M729 missiles and launchers. This was Russia’s final opportunity to return to compliance, and the onus of preserving the treaty was on that country. The United States was not walking away from an arms control treaty, because an arms control regime respected by only one party was unsustainable.

Egypt outlined its vision of top priorities for the Conference on Disarmament, highlighting in particular the achievement of a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention to realize the full and irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons. Nuclear disarmament thus remained a high priority for Egypt and should be pursued, and a programme of work should include the establishment of a subsidiary body to deal with nuclear disarmament. The Conference should start negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multilateral, and effectively verifiable legally binding instrument banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, which must fulfil both disarmament and non-proliferation purposes, which could never be accomplished if fissile material stocks were excluded from its scope. Egypt also stressed the critical importance of negotiating a universal and unconditional legally binding instrument offering negative security assurances to non-nuclear weapons States, as well as negotiation on a legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms space in outer space. Further, Egypt was concerned about the long delay in the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East.

Ireland said that the draft programme of work that the President had presented challenged the Conference to be ambitious and capitalize on the discussions in the subsidiary bodies in 2018, and Ireland would work with others to build consensus that could bring the Conference back to fulfilling its essential mandate. The draft was timely as the announcements by the United States and Russia that they were suspending their obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty had reminded of the fragility of disarmament and non-proliferation agreements. The unravelling of the treaty and the potential arms race that its termination could instigate would be a step back into a dark and dangerous past and this must be avoided. Ireland welcomed the reference in the draft programme of work to the United Nations Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda, as unrestricted spread and use of weapons – conventional or weapons of mass destruction – was a cross-cutting matter that threatened human rights, the environment, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the very future of the planet. Ireland was seriously concerned about the lack of progress on establishing a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, and urged progress on the long-stalled process leading to a Fissile Material Treaty. The Conference must look to the future and explore new ways of engaging on the substance of its work, including through a focus on gender issues.

France took note of the complexity and deterioration of the international situation and stressed that multilateralism must be effective in addressing it. France firmly believed in arms control and disarmament, and called upon Europeans and all others to redouble efforts to preserve the existing arms control treaties and agreements. France regretted that it had to conclude that Russia was in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and called upon that State to fully return to conformity. France encouraged Russia and the United States to prolong beyond 2021 the START and to negotiate a new agreement. France warned that a simplistic approach to disarmament, where it was seen in isolation from political realities, changed capabilities and technological breakthrough, could not amount to success. France recognized the difficulty of adopting a programme of work and remained ready to support this body in fulfilling its mission, which was to negotiate nuclear disarmament agreements. The priority should be given to launching negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which was the subject ripe for negotiation and the next logical step. The success that the subsidiary bodies had achieved in 2018 should be continued as it would allow the Conference to engage with the principle of long-term work.

Indonesia stressed the need for all Member States to reaffirm their commitment to the Conference on Disarmament and enable it to continue its work and attain its objective. There was a need to raise the awareness of the work of the Conference on Disarmament among other stakeholders, including youth, women, civil society and academia, and to raise the profile of its important work and contribution among the international community. One way to do that was through an event to commemorate the Conference’s fortieth anniversary. The establishment of the five subsidiary bodies in 2018 and their programme of activities had been a true reflection of the collaborative spirit and efforts of Member States to continue the work of the Conference on Disarmament. It was essential to redouble efforts to find any initiative aimed at breaking the impasse and bringing the Conference back to it substantive work in 2019.

Russia said that in light of the announcement by the United States to suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia had suspended its obligations under the treaty on 2 February. Russia had been calling for many years for meaningful disarmament talks, but in recent years, it had noted that other parties found pretext to further dismantle the international security architecture. President Putin had instructed his senior ministries that Russia would wait until its partner was ready to engage in a meaningful dialogue, and had also declared that Russia would not deploy intermediate range or short range weapons in Europe or elsewhere until the United States weapons of this kind were deployed elsewhere in the world. The President had instructed the ministries to closely monitor developments and propose action.

Mexico thanked China for the briefing on the P5 meeting in Beijing, which was a very positive development. Mexico also welcomed the serious commitment of the P5 to contribute to the maintaining of international peace and security, especially at this time.

South Africa regretted that the request by the State of Palestine could not be accommodated and warned against the politicization of the work in Conference on Disarmament which only served to deflect attention from the core issues. South Africa urged Member States not to bring up issues that were not within the mandate of the Conference, and then welcomed the draft programme of work, noting that the perfect should not become the enemy of the good; a consensus on a programme of work and a schedule of activities, and the beginning of negotiations were of ultimate priority. States must engage in an accelerated pace of negotiations on nuclear disarmament, said South Africa, noting that there were no reasons to prevent negotiations on a number of other issues, including fissile materials and preventing an arms race in outer space. Such negotiations could only contribute to further building trust between States. The Conference on Disarmament could only benefit from the collective wisdom of its members, thus more focus should be given to enlarging its membership and addressing the use of the consensus rule to prevent some observer States from joining the work of the Conference.

Discussions on a programme of work

YURII KLYMENKO, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva, addressed the concerns some Member States had raised concerning para 6(a) in the draft programme of work, and said that it aimed to invite Member States to think outside of the box in matters related to biological weapons, since proliferation might harm efforts to control bio threats. The idea was to combine all initiatives coming from different stakeholders, with activities in security and public health domains. Biosecurity policies required global governance of biosecurity threats, the President stressed, adding that the format and the scope of such a governance system were up for discussions, but it was clear that it must be network-based, and incorporate diverse stakeholders.

Zimbabwe believed that the draft was a good basis for deliberation; welcoming its ambition, Zimbabwe warned that the issues before the Conference were not amenable to quick-fix solutions and there was a need to be creative in approaches. The work in subsidiary bodies in 2018 provided a good basis for the work in 2019, as it had already explored the lowest common denominator on a number of issues. Those discussions must continue since it was no longer tenable for the Conference to skate around core issues. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was the last one negotiated in this forum, and 23 years without negotiations was too long. Zimbabwe stood ready to work with others to find solutions.

Argentina welcomed the reference to the United Nations Secretary-General’s disarmament agenda in the draft programme of work, and said that should a consensus on a programme of work not be possible, the Conference should resume the work of the subsidiary bodies set up in 2018. In the current crisis of multilateralism, lack of mutual trust, and suspension of arms control treaties, revitalising the Conference on Disarmament and showing it was capable of carrying out negotiations was of critical importance.

Iran highly valued any proposal aimed at breaking the deadlock in the Conference, especially given the current sabre rattling and in the shadow of a new arms race. Iran was deeply concerned about recent developments in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and remarked that the United States repeatedly violated its international obligations. The core issues must be treated in a balanced manner, but the priority must be on effective nuclear disarmament measures to achieve the total elimination of nuclear weapons, including a compressive convention on nuclear weapons. This should be reflected in the draft programme of work. The issue of biological weapons should be handled by the Biological Weapons Convention.

United States remarked that the 6(a) paragraph intercepted directly with the Biological Weapons Convention and that it was not clear how negotiating an elaborate global governance mechanism would add value. Several items were missing from the draft programme of work, namely the working methods of the Conference, which was a concern raised by several delegations. The United States remained committed to the consensus principle, and said that the examination of the rules concerning the alphabetic rotation of presidencies and the expansion of the membership should be included in the draft text.

Bangladesh suggested a readjustment between para 6(a) and 6(b) to reflect the work of the subsidiary bodies, while paragraph 6(c) should include a reference to a legally binding agreement. Bangladesh asked for further clarifications concerning the proposal to negotiate an elaborate global governance system on bio threats and how it intersected with the work of the Biological Weapons Convention.

Canada appreciated the President’s efforts to revive the work of the Conference and remarked that the draft programme of work proposed multiple negotiations at the same time. Canada was concerned whether all those issues were ready for negotiations, and also remarked that starting several negotiations at the same time would raise an issue of capacity of many delegations, including Canada. Canada supported the start of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, multilateral, and effectively verifiable legally binding instrument banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. In Canada’s view, the start of negotiations would not preclude discussions on the past production of fissile material. On biosecurity, the Biological Weapons Convention would be a better platform to advance discussions at this time.

Brazil asked for additional explanations concerning the proposal in the draft programme of work related to nuclear disarmament and stressed the importance of agility in decision making. Brazil supported the call to examine working methods, including the duration of presidencies, continuation from one year to another, and expansion of membership, which was a necessity. On a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, Brazil agreed with comments made by Canada, while on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, Brazil suggested the continuation of the work of subsidiary body three, until the Group of Governmental Experts issued its conclusions.

United States said it could not agree with a reference in the draft programme of work to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Agenda for Disarmament. Some of the elements in the draft were not ready for negotiations, the prevention of an arms race in outer space being one, so there was a need to adjust the level of ambition in the proposed text. The United States was not convinced that repeating the subsidiary bodies exercise would have much utility, but the draft should incorporate a discussion on working methods and the expansion of membership.

Argentina agreed that looking into the issues of expansion of membership and the rotation of presidencies, would be timely.

YURII KLYMENKO, President of the Conference and Permanent Representative of Ukraine, thanked the delegations for their comments, and agreed that agility was essential. He said the next plenary would be held on Thursday, 7 February at 3 p.m. in room VII to hold a video conference with the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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