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By George Baumgarten, United Nations Correspondent for the Winnipeg Jewish Review

Representatives of nearly 190 countries are meeting currently at the United Nations, in order to ensure a future free of nuclear weapons. The "8th Review Conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)" is, technically, not a U.N. meeting; its sessions are merely held in the U.N.'s General Assembly Hall. And Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are technically not participating (They can attend as "observers".). But the Conference still had all the excitement of a U.N. session. And—in its very first hours—it featured the spectacle of Iran's President lecturing the world (and especially the U.S.) on the evils of nuclear weapons.
The Conference, like the U.N.’s fall General Assembly session, Opened with a “General Debate”, in which all nations (in this case, all signatories to the NPT) can present their policy statements on the issue. After hearing from the Indonesian Foreign Minister (Speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement), the next speaker was President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

Ahmadinejad, who has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”, took the bizarre tack of lecturing the Conference—and the world—on the evils and dangers of nuclear weapons:

The nuclear bomb is a fire against humanity rather than a weapon for defense.”, and

“The possession of nuclear bombs is not a source of pride; it is rather disgusting and shameful.”

And speaking of the United States, Ahmadinejad continued:

“Those who committed the first atomic bombardment are considered to be the most hated in history.”

The President turned to Israel (in one of his [relatively] “milder” allusions), and noted that:

“During the past four decades, some, including the Zionist regime, have been equipped with nuclear arms.”

Finally, in a section named “Threat to use nuclear weapons”, Ahmadinejad said:

“Regrettably, the government of the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including Iran. The Zionist regime, too, consistently threatens the Middle Eastern countries”.

Just prior to Ahmadinejad’s speech, the ambassadors from the U.S., Great Britain, France and the Netherlands left the General Assembly Hall in protest. They were joined by the Secretary-General, causing the Daily News to write an editorial asking if he was protesting, too. In truth, he was returning to a crowded schedule of diplomatic meetings and photo opportunities…as confirmed by his Spokesperson several days later.

Secretary Clinton spoke for the U.S., reminding member states of their “rights and responsibilities”, under the Treaty, which she said were the “guiding principles of our efforts”. Speaking of Iran’s attitude, however, the Secretary noted to the U.N. press corps, that

“…we’ve also heard some destructive rhetoric…And we cannot let that rhetoric stand. Iran is the only country represented here found to be currently in violation of its obligations under the N.P.T’., adding that:

“For all the bluster of its words, the Iranian Government cannot defend its own Actions…”

These words were spoken barely an hour after walking out on the Iranian President, and underscored U.S. determination to bring the issue of sanctions before the Security Council, an effort that now commands increasing support among the Council’s Permanent Members.

The representative of Saudi Arabia, the most conservative of Arab governments, spoke of  “stumbling negotiations” with Iran, saying that she should cooperate with the I.A.E.A. (International Atomic Energy Agency), “…in order to make the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction”.  But his country was also said, in a recent report by Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), to be interested in acquiring “…its own nuclear deterrence”, perhaps in cooperation with Pakistan. And His Majesty recently announced the establishment of a new “King Abdullah City”, devoted solely to ”..research and development of all aspects of nuclear energy”.

Sven Alkalaj, Foreign Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noted a “rollback” in efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals. Alkalaj, a Sephardic Jew from Sarajevo, is the one and only Jewish Foreign Minister of a Muslim majority country. He also cited “deep divisions” between the Treaty’s member states.

The N.P.T. Review Conference (the 8th since the Treaty was originally signed) will continue until May 28. There may yet be some contentious debate on its “final document”. But the world already knows where the major players stand.

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