By Monitor l The collapse last week of the month–long talks in New York to bring the UN Nuclear Non–Proliferation Treaty up–to–date, was not exactly unexpected. The Treaty is extraordinarily detailed and complex and these recent talks were perhaps a necessary preliminary skirmish in advance of further and more constructive discussions. It is worth reflecting, however, that the Treaty, now 35 years old, has been more successful than most arms control treaties. It was signed in 1970 against a background of high international anxiety that as many as 100 countries might have a military nuclear capability by the start of the 21st century. In fact only seven countries are known to have nuclear weapons: Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, Russia and the United States; in addition, it is widely believed that Israel has them, although it refuses to admit as much, while by contrast North Korea openly claims ownership. The existing Treaty has two main weaknesses: first, any one of its 187 signatories can withdraw from it with only 90 days notice; second, a country can get very close indeed to making weapons without actually breaking its provisions. North Korea has exploited the first weakness and shown that 90 days is a wholly inadequate length of time for other nations to decide how to respond. Iran is thought to have taken advantage of the second weakness by enriching uranium for peaceful purposes quite legally but, at the same time, to a point that a switch to illegal weapons production would be relatively easy. The New York conference quickly settled into a stand–off between nuclear haves and have–nots with the United States most prominent among the former. A proposal from Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the UN's International Atomic Authority, that there should be a five–year freeze on all uranium enrichment was rejected by the US which said that any such restriction should apply only to countries which so far lack weapons. Iran, for instance.

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