updated 5/10/2005 9:15:46 AM ET 2005-05-10T13:15:46

Washington isn’t taking “the common bargain” of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as seriously as it once did, and that’s dimming global support for the U.S. campaign to shut down the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector said.

Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, by questioning the value of treaties and international law, has also damaged the U.S. position, Hans Blix said.

“There is a feeling the common edifice of the international community is being dismantled,” the Swedish arms expert said.

Blix, now chairman of the Swedish government-sponsored Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, spoke with reporters in the second week of a month-long conference to review the 1970 nonproliferation treaty.

Under the 188-nation pact, nations without nuclear weapons pledge not to pursue them, in exchange for a commitment by five nuclear-weapons states — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — to negotiate toward nuclear disarmament.

Slow move toward disarmament
The review conference has been stalled, without an agenda, because of a dispute over agenda language dealing with the very dissatisfaction Blix spoke of: the complaints by some that the nuclear-weapons states are moving too slowly toward disarmament.

A last-minute objection by Egypt last Friday scuttled an apparent agreement on the agenda. The Egyptians wanted language that focused more on assessing how well the nuclear powers have done in taking specific steps toward disarmament, under commitments they made in 2000 at the last of these twice-a-decade conferences.

Nuclear “have-nots” complain that the Bush administration, in particular, has acted contrary to those commitments, by rejecting the nuclear test-ban treaty, for example.

Washington, for its part, wants the conference to focus on what it alleges are Iran’s plans to build nuclear arms in violation of the treaty, and on North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty and claim to have nuclear bombs.

Blix told reporters there is “a great deal of concern” about North Korea and Iran among states without nuclear weapons.

But “that feeling of concern is somewhat muted by the feeling that the United States in particular, and perhaps some other nuclear weapons states, are not taking the common bargain as seriously as they had committed themselves to do in the past,” he said.

'Why are you complaining?'
He cited Bush administration proposals to build new nuclear weapons and talk in Washington even of testing weapons, ending a 13-year-old U.S. moratorium on nuclear tests. He also referred to statements by Bolton, President Bush’s embattled nominee to be U.N. ambassador, devaluing treaties and the authority of international law.

“Why are you complaining about (North Korea) breaching the treaty if treaties are not binding?” Blix, an international lawyer, asked rhetorically.

In 2002-03, Blix led U.N. teams that found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 700 inspections, undermining Bush administration claims that such weapons existed. Despite these findings, Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, and U.S. inspectors have since similarly found no such weapons programs.

At the treaty conference Monday, private consultations appeared to make progress toward agreement on an agenda, without which the sessions might be unable to address such pressing issues as North Korea and Iran.

The conference president, Sergio de Queiroz Duarte, met with key parties over the weekend to try to bridge the diplomatic gap. On Monday, without confirming that agreement was in hand, the Brazilian diplomat said, “It seems we are continuing the consultations in a favorable mood.” He said he hoped an agenda could be adopted as early as Tuesday.

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