Published on Monday, April 24, 2000 by Agence France-Presse
US Conference On Disarmament Opens Today; Growing US Isolation To Put Increased Pressure on Israel
UNITED NATIONS - Representatives from 188 nations were to gather in New York Monday for a major review of a 1970 treaty seeking to stem the development of nuclear weapons around the globe.

The ultimate goal of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is to completely eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

The NPT prohibits non-nuclear nations from developing nuclear weapons, while requiring that nuclear powers take steps towards the elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

United States and the other acknowledged nuclear powers say they are committed to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and vow not to threaten the use of such devices against non-nuclear countries.

Additionally, several nuclear powers -- including South Africa, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine -- have renounced nuclear weapons.

Israel likely will come under close scrutiny during the conference, which is held once every five years and which runs this year through May 19.

Arab states, led by Egypt, are stepping up the pressure on Tel Aviv to sign the NPT as a key step toward ensuring a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

Merav Datan, program director of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize, said Israel was believed to have about 200 nuclear weapons.

"We expect to see a lot of pressure on Israel," she said, and added that the review conference would probably set up a subsidiary body to deal with the Middle East "so as not to overburden the NPT."

Experts said the growing international isolation of the United States is another factor increasing pressure on Israel.

"The erosion of US leadership makes it much more likely that there will be pressure to name Israel" in a resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, said Zia Mian, a physicist and nuclear policy analyst at Princeton University.

Some delegates had "a sense that aspects of US domestic politics have hijacked the NPT," he added, and the administration of President Bill Clinton seemed to have accepted its isolation and decided to ride out the storm.

Other non-signatory countries that could face some peer to join the treaty are India and Pakistan -- both of which tested nuclear weapons in 1998 -- and Cuba, which is not thought to have any.

At the last NPT conference in 1995, non-nuclear members of the NPT agreed to extend the treaty indefinitely in return for a commitment from the five declared nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- that they would negotiate in good faith towards nuclear disarmament.