With a few keystrokes, an official U.S. brochure eliminated some historic arms-control deals, angered the champions of disarmament, and showed again that in the paper deluge of a global conference, what's left out can be as telling as what's put in.
In this case, the publication's "rewriting of history," as one critic put it, also illustrates in black and white a dispute that has helped bog down the 188-nation conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The monthlong conference entered its final three days on Wednesday with uncertain prospects for producing any major agreements to tighten controls on the spread of atomic arms, or to speed nuclear disarmament.
The brochure, slickly produced by the State Department and distributed to hundreds of delegates, lists milestones in arms control since the 1980s, while touting reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. But the timeline omits a pivotal agreement, the 1996 treaty to ban nuclear tests, a pact negotiated by the Clinton administration and ratified by 121 nations but now rejected under President Bush.
Further along, the brochure skips over the year 2000 entirely, a snub of the treaty review conference that year, when the United States and other nuclear-weapons states committed to "13 practical steps" to achieve nuclear disarmament — including activating the test-ban treaty, negotiating a pact to ban production of bomb material, and "unequivocally undertaking" to totally eliminate their arsenals.
Bush administration officials now suggest the 2000 commitments are outdated. Other delegations reject that, however, demanding a reaffirmation of the goals in a final document at the current conference.
Few expect that, and they cite the blank spots in the brochure as another piece of evidence.
"Official disdain for these agreements seems to have turned into denial that they existed," said Joseph Cirincione, an arms-control specialist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who accused the State Department of rewriting history.
"Does this mean that, because we have a change of administration, we are not accountable to other countries?" asked another disarmament advocate, Jonathan Granoff of the Global Security Institute.
Asked why the 1996 treaty and the 2000 U.S. commitments — along with similar commitments in 1995 — didn't make the 40-entry list of "progress in arms control," U.S. delegation spokesman Richard Grenell said simply, "We highlighted certain items, and it wasn't an exhaustive list."
By contrast, an official U.N. chronology has several entries on the test ban, and prominently notes the 1995 and 2000 agreements.
Under the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, reviewed every five years for ways to strengthen implementation, nations without nuclear weapons commit to not pursuing them in exchange for a pledge by five weapons states — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — to move toward disarmament. The nonweapons states, meanwhile, are guaranteed access to peaceful nuclear technology.
The United States has sought to have the conference focus on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
In Geneva on Wednesday, European diplomats resume negotiations with Tehran in an effort to get the Iranians to roll back their uranium-enrichment program, which can produce both fuel for nuclear energy and material for bombs. The Iranians cite the treaty guarantee on peaceful technology in justifying the program, but Washington contends they have plans to make weapons.
North Korea was the first "defector" from the treaty, having announced its withdrawal in 2003 and now claiming to have built nuclear weapons. This was done without consequences under the treaty, and many here would like to make it harder to exit the nuclear pact, and to threaten sanctions against those who do.
Many nonweapons states, however, want an additional focus on the nuclear powers, complaining they are moving too slowly on their disarmament obligations. They cite in particular Bush administration talk of "modernizing" the U.S. nuclear arsenal and rejection of the test-ban treaty.
Washington still adheres to a unilateral moratorium on testing, but treaty advocates say a formal outlawing of testing is needed to stop development of new nuclear arms.
Visiting the troubled conference on Tuesday, a U.S. negotiator of the test-ban treaty told reporters the 1996 pact is a "litmus test."
"If countries that promised never to have nuclear weapons now see weapons states holding open the option to test, some of them think, `Why should we give up nuclear weapons?'" said former Ambassador Thomas Graham.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press