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Obama Boost Opens Door for Nuclear Test Ban Pact

Sylvia Westall

A nuclear explosion during a test in Mururoa atoll in 1971. A new era of US diplomacy under Barack Obama is providing fresh momentum for a global ban on nuclear tests, monitors in a UN-backed group said Tuesday. (AFP/File)

VIENNA - Backers of a global pact banning nuclear tests said on Tuesday they would seize on U.S. President Barack Obama's disarmament initiatives to further their agenda at the United Nations this month.

Obama has voiced his support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) which has yet to take force because his nation is among nine with significant nuclear activities that have not ratified it.

"The time has arrived, even more than ever, to push ahead the non-proliferation regime," Omar Zniber, Morocco's ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, where the CTBT agency is based, told a news conference.

Morocco and France are coordinating the drive to get nuclear states such as India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the treaty. Others yet to ratify include Egypt, Iran and Israel.

Senior officials of states in the CTBT as well as the U.N. Security Council will meet on September 24-25 at the United Nations in New York to debate the pact -- the first time in a decade that the United States will join such talks on the treaty.

Obama's predecessor George W. Bush gave short shrift to nuclear diplomacy and arms control, although the U.S. Senate's failure to ratify the treaty dates back to 1999, during the Clinton administration.

U.S. politicians said at the time there was no foolproof way to verify compliance with the treaty. But supporters say verification technology has since improved dramatically.

Obama has vowed fresh efforts to secure Senate ratification. His administration and Russia have highlighted the need to rid the world of nuclear arsenals starting in their own backyards.

The U.N. talks will coincide with a special meeting of the Security Council on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament to be chaired by Obama.

Tibor Toth, executive secretary of the CTBT implementing agency, said that while the U.S.-Russian commitment to gradual disarmament was an important step, a global test ban pact was also an achievable goal given the changed diplomatic climate.

"I think a new license for life has been given to multilateralism and nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. There is a need to have a return for the investment," he said.

"This is the treaty which comes the closest to delivering something meaningful."

Some 180 countries have signed the treaty and around 150 have ratified it. It cannot take force until the outstanding nine nuclear states sign and ratify.

If the United States gets on board, supporters say it will provide a strong impetus for the others to follow.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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