Dec 8, 2008
PARIS — The European Union is trying to revive a movement to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, proposing a global ban on nuclear testing and a moratorium on the production of all fissile material, according to a letter from the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, made public on Monday.
France, a nuclear power, holds the European Union presidency until the end of the year, so Mr. Sarkozy wrote to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, in the name of the union.
“We are convinced of the necessity to work for general disarmament,” Mr. Sarkozy wrote in the two-page letter, dated Dec. 5 and released by his office. “The United Nations has an important role to play in the debate on disarmament. Europe wants to play an important role.”
The number of nuclear weapons worldwide is at least 20,000, and there is a new interest in reviving efforts to sharply reduce the number in a post-cold-war world where smaller, less stable countries are thought to be pursuing nuclear weapons, and where nuclear terrorism is a concern. President-elect Barack Obama promised in his campaign to make “the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy.”
The growing debate over the Iranian nuclear program is an important backdrop to the European effort, French officials said. Iran has refused to stop uranium enrichment despite United Nations sanctions. It says its enrichment program is only for peaceful nuclear power; no Western government believes that, and intelligence agencies expect Iran to have enough enriched material for a nuclear weapon by the end of 2009. Some nuclear experts say they believe that Iran has enough enriched uranium for one bomb.
The European Union is also proposing “the opening of consultations on a treaty forbidding short- and medium-range surface-to-surface missiles,” which is highly unlikely because of their increasing use in conventional warfare.
Other proposals include the universal ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the dismantling of nuclear bomb test sites, and a universal inspection regime, and the Europeans urge further progress in talks between the United States and Russia on a follow-on treaty to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start.
The publication of Mr. Sarkozy’s letter seemed timed to coincide with a conference beginning on Tuesday in Paris of an international group pressing for the elimination of nuclear arms.
The group, called Global Zero, includes Thomas R. Pickering, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, Israel, India, El Salvador, Jordan and Nigeria; Richard Burt, a former American ambassador to Germany and former nuclear-arms negotiator; Margaret Beckett, a British Labor legislator and former foreign secretary; Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a British Conservative legislator and former foreign secretary; and Queen Noor of Jordan, the widow of King Hussein. Former President Jimmy Carter and the former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev are listed as supporters.