Pakistani Turnaround Makes Negotiations on Fissile Material Possible
A major change in Pakistan's position on nuclear arms control was announced at today's session of the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD). Pakistan's Ambassador to the CD, Munir Akram, announced that "during discussions in Islamabad last week, Pakistan and the United States agreed to support the immediate commencement of negotiations on a non-discriminatory, universal and effectively verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other explosive devices." Until today, Pakistan had strongly objected to such negotiations because of the larger stocks of nuclear bomb material that India possesses. India has been in favor of starting Cut Off negotiations since its tests on May 11 and 13.
A basic agreement on the mandate for Fissile Material Cut Off (FMCT) negotiations had already been reached in 1995 by the CD, however, no political agreement on actually beginning talks has been reached since then. Such a breakthrough suddenly seems to be possible: immediately after the Pakistani announcement 14 of the 61 CD member states signaled support for starting negotiations this year. Next Tuesday, the issue will be discussed behind closed doors.
Major obstacles still need to be overcome: Pakistan stated today that during negotiations a "solution to the problem of unequal stockpiles" has to be found. Experts estimate that Pakistan possesses roughly 335 to 400 kg of highly enriched uranium, enough to produce 16 to 20 nuclear weapons. India is believed to possess around 400 kg plutonium, enough for 75 weapons. Another basic problem is the question whether an FMCT will only deal with future production of nuclear weapon materials, as the nuclear weapon states want, or whether it will also cover existing stockpiles, which many non-nuclear weapon states want.
"If the huge existing nuclear stockpiles not are covered in the negotiations, this could weaken the nuclear disarmament process," 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."
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