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Nuclear Non-Proliferation Pact Indefinitely Extended

By Julia Preston
The Washington Post

A global conference indefinitely extended the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Thursday, giving permanent force to the pact underpinning world efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons.

The decision to make the 25-year-old treaty permanent represented a major foreign policy victory for the Clinton administration. It crowned months of persuasion, pressure and maneuver by U.S. arms control envoys, who met resistance from smaller nations upset at the slow pace of big-power nuclear disarmament and from Arab countries resentful of Israel's undeclared status as the only nuclear power in the Middle East.

"This action will build a better future for our children for future generations," President Clinton declared in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, where he was visiting. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, echoed his salute, saying: "We successfully capitalized on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

To the surprise of most arms control experts, agreement was so broad among the 175 nations participating in negotiations on the treaty that the choice to make it permanent was adopted by consensus, without a polarizing vote. After months of wrangling, support for indefinite renewal was strong both among the five powers that have declared nuclear arsenals - the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China - and among smaller, developing nations that have no atomic weapons.

Representatives of only eight nations made speeches to voice some dissent: Syria, Jordan, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Egypt, Malaysia and Nigeria.

Under the treaty, the five nuclear powers pledge to disarm gradually and the non-nuclear states agree to forgo nuclear weapons. Little was accomplished in the negotiations, which began here formally April 17 after months of preparations, to change the nuclear balance established under the treaty, strongly favoring the five nuclear powers.

The five powers took no new immediate disarmament steps. But in a set of principles adopted Thursday, they agreed to bring their disarmament efforts under international scrutiny in five conferences in a five-year period. Until now, these reviews had taken place once every five years. The new review system, which came from a proposal by South Africa, was key to persuading the non-nuclear countries that they would continue to have some leverage over the nuclear weapons states.

"At long last we have established accountability," said Prvoslav Davinic, the U.N. official who served as secretary general of the treaty renewal conference.

With 175 delegations present, more governments participated in the meeting than in any other international treaty conference.

In all, the governments made four decisions. They agreed on a resolution, crafted by conference president Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, saying that "a majority exists among States party to the Treaty for its indefinite extension" and making it permanent. They adopted the new review procedures and a set of principles that are to serve as a yardstick to measure disarmament progress.

To meet the concerns of Arab nations, led by Egypt, the conference also adopted a consensus resolution calling on Israel to join the treaty and enter into a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East. But the Israeli government swiftly reiterated that it will not sign the pact until all regional governments, including Iran, enter into peace agreements with the Jewish state.

"We have no intention of signing the NPT while there is a threat to Israel's very existence, a threat which itself stands in absolute contradiction to the United Nations charter," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told reporters in Jerusalem.

The culmination of nearly a month of frenetic negotiations came in a moment of silence in the arching United Nations plenary hall. Dhanapala put the measures before the delegates, saying he believed there was "common agreement" and no need for a vote. He asked if there were objections, and the hall fell quiet.

Dhanapala banged down his gavel, and responded to the applause with a long, satisfied smile.

In the set of principles, all five nuclear weapons states committed themselves to sign a comprehensive treaty banning all nuclear weapons tests by 1996. The Clinton administration has declared a moratorium on testing and said it is seeking a "prompt" completion of the treaty.