Press Release
19 January 1999

Conference on Disarmament to begin talks on Fissile Material Treaty

The UN Conference on Disarmament (CD) today starts deliberations on whether to negotiate a treaty banning the production of fissile materials, which are needed to make nuclear weapons. The CD at the end of its 1998 session had already began talks on such a treaty but the decision to commence formal negotiations has to be renewed this year. However, recent developments as the bombings of Iraq, the unresolved situation around the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs and the breakdown of government in Israel have called a smooth start of negotiations into questions.

A Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) would ban the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, two essential components of any nuclear weapon. A basic agreement on the mandate for FMT negotiations had already been reached in 1995 by the CD, however, no political agreement on actually beginning talks has been reached until last August, when Pakistan and Israel dropped their long-standing opposition to such talks. The nuclear status of India, Israel and Pakistan, the three nuclear weapons states that have not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, is one of the many problems that will have to be solved during the negotiations. Israel is likely to oppose any inspections of its secret nuclear weapons program because it wants to maintain its status of nuclear ambiguity.

The United States and Russia are awash in fissile materials coming from the dismantlement of nuclear weapons and have stopped production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, as have France and the United Kingdom. China is also believed to no longer produce fissile materials. All nuclear weapon states with the exception of Pakistan and Israel however refuse to have their existing stocks of fissile materials covered by the treaty and insist that the FMT should prohibit only the future production of HEU and plutonium.

"If the talks on a treaty banning the production of fissile material are blocked by political fights over the nuclear status of Pakistan and India, this would worsen the current crisis in nuclear disarmament", says Oliver Meier, Senior Analyst at the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security. "To give FMCT negotiations a better start, all states capable of producing nuclear weapons should declare immediately unilateral and binding moratoria on production of fissile materials."

For further information please contact
Oliver Meier Tel./ FAX +41-22-731 0812
BITS is an independent research institute working on Foreign and Security issues.