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World Powers Back Nonproliferation Measures

Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to chair a UN Security Council meeting.
UNITED NATIONS (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has passed a resolution calling on all countries to sign and ratify the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The United States presented the draft resolution calling on the council to apply measures on violators of nuclear obligations if their actions are determined threats to the world's peace and security.

Barack Obama, who called the gathering and became the first U.S. president to chair a Security Council meeting, said the measure is vital to the cause of nonproliferation.

"This resolution will also help strengthen the institutions and initiatives that combat the smuggling, financing and theft of proliferation-related materials," Obama said. "It calls on all states to freeze any financial assets that are being used for proliferation, and it calls for stronger safeguards to reduce the likelihood that peaceful nuclear programs can be diverted to a weapons program."

In the past, the council had authorized measures including military force to deal with such threats.

Participants at a related UN conference called on the nine countries which have not yet ratified the CTBT to do so. North Korea, India, and Pakistan have not signed the treaty. The United States, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Egypt, and China have signed it but have not ratified it.

Targeting Tehran?

Some diplomats believe that the resolution is aimed at Iran, which has so far refused to cooperate with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the verification of the peaceful objectives of its nuclear program.

But Obama was quick to emphasize that the resolution targets no country. Instead, he said, it is a call for all countries to comply and to tighten the procedures for handling nuclear material.

Outgoing IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei, who was present at the council' session, said his concern is that nuclear material can end up in the hands of terrorists.

"In my view the biggest risk the world faces today is of extremists getting hold of such [nuclear and radioactive] materials," el-Baradei said. "More than 200 incidents of illicit trafficking, losses, of theft were reported to the IAEA last year, and this might be only the tip of the iceberg."

Speaking to reporters after the conclusion of the meeting, British Prime Minster Gordon Brown warned Tehran that "Iran must not allow its actions to prevent the international community from moving forward to a more peaceful era."

He added: "As evidence of [Iran's] breach of international agreements grows, we must now consider far tougher sanctions together."

Brown's warning follows remarks one day earlier by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Iran faces serious consequences if it doesn't comply with demands of the international community for verification.

The resolution is not binding and can only become so if the Security Council requires UN member states to take additional steps and makes their nuclear exports subject to stricter standard.

Looking Ahead

Obama's recent decision to scrap plans for a missile shield in Eastern Europe gave a serious boost for non-nuclear cooperation between Russia and United States. Speaking at today's meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both countries to continue their cooperation in this area and expressed hope that other countries will follow.

"We hope that the Russian-American efforts in this regard will be supported by all nuclear powers," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said. "Non-nuclear states also have to abide by their nonproliferation commitments thus contributing for creating of favorable international conditions for real nuclear disarmament."

Obama said that the resolution endorses the global effort to help nations to contain all nuclear material for the next four years. It minimizes, but does not eliminate, the likelihood that a peaceful nuclear program can be turned into a military one.

"In America, I have promised that we will pursue a new agreement with Russia to substantially reduce our strategic warheads and launchers," Obama said. "We will move forward with the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and open the door to deeper cuts in our own arsenal."

It was only the fifth time in the council's history that all five permanent members were represented by their heads of state or government and the first time that a U.S. president has served as chairman of such a meeting.