ANY hope that the UN conference to review the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which opened in New York yesterday, might take a positive course were quickly dashed by the combative speech of President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Expanding his 5-minutes slot to half-an-hour he insisted that Iran had no nuclear weapon intentions, lambasted the United States for threatening Iran in its recent Nuclear Posture statement and accused the UN International Atomic Energy Agency of being a puppet of America. Several western diplomats walked out during the speech but the majority of the delegates remained and applauded Ahmadinejad in a way that suggested they rather agreed with him.

This conference is important because if it fails to renew and strengthen the 1968 non-proliferation treaty (as happened at a similar conference in 2005) its provisions might fall into disuse. The United States, perhaps anticipating an Ahmadinejad assault, released figures showing that the size of its nuclear arsenal had been reduced by 84 per cent since 1967 but still contained 5'113 nuclear warheads. This unprecedented transparency was clearly designed to persuade delegates to the conference that Barack Obama's recent disarmament agreement with Russia is only part of America's continuing commitment to reducing and, if possible, ultimately ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The conference is scheduled to last for one month and some sensitive diplomacy will be necessary if it is to reach a constructive conclusion.