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Russia and the US: Has a season of nuclear disarmament finally arrived?

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Some items are bound to attract much attention in May. One is that, 20 years after the end of the cold war, the obligation of five nuclear weapon states that are parties under Article VI of the NPT to negotiate toward nuclear disarmament has not led us anywhere near zero. Another grievance – especially among Arab states – is that Israel has refrained from adhering to the treaty and acquired nuclear weapons. A third is that the treaty was violated by several states. Although Iraq and Libya have been brought into compliance, North Korea has not and Iran (and perhaps others) might aim at ignoring the treaty.

Views on Iran’s program for the enrichment of uranium have long been divided and they are likely to remain divided at the NPT conference.

There are many reasons for suspecting that the aim of Iran’s enrichment program is the development of a nuclear weapon in breach of NPT obligations or, at least, to move close to the ability to make a weapon. This has already resulted in a dangerous increase of tension in the region.

Why has it not been possible so far to persuade Iran to abandon or suspend the enrichment program? While there is a right under the NPT for parties to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes there is certainly no obligation to use this right.

It is hard to avoid the impression that the approach to Iran has often been highhanded and clumsy. Iran has been told that negotiations about a variety of benefits would be open but only on the condition that the enrichment program first be suspended. Who gives up a trump card before the game?

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