Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
© AFP
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Last updated: September 26, 2013
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"Why is it that there is no progress in nuclear disarmament?"

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The Iranian president did not meet Barack Obama in New York, but Rouhani's comments at the UN are well worth remembering. We now have the historical opportunity to give peace a chance. There is an upcoming UN General Assembly meeting on nuclear disarmament and there are prospects for inviting Iran to negotiations on Syria.

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Why is it that there is no progress in nuclear disarmament? Nuclear weapons have lost much of their military significance. It would be unthinkable to actually use them. Why do we still have them around? Chemical weapons, for example, are banned, although some countries, such as Syria, still have them. The Chemical Weapons Convention gives the international community the power and legitimacy to abolish them. A ban on nuclear weapons would fulfil the same function. However, the US, Russia, France and the UK have so far opposed all efforts to negotiate a ban. Seizing power with the intention of relinquishing it is not common political behaviour.

"The non-nuclear states should have a stronger voice in the Security Council"

The current nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not strong enough on nuclear disarmament and is plainly unjust. Some countries are allowed to have nuclear weapons, others are not. Four countries have developed nuclear weapons outside the Treaty: India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Among these countries, India is already a de facto nuclear state. Others are asked to join the NPT as non-nuclear states. Is this fair international practice or double standards built into the application of the Treaty?  

The case of Iran is an excellent example of the ambiguity of the Treaty. There is tremendous international pressure being put on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons. Israel, a country that is ambiguous about its nuclear weapons status, is at the same time threatening Iran, a non-nuclear state, with a military strike. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has desperately been trying to draw parallels between Iran and North Korea in a bid to avert results in the negotiations. 

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In today's international system, unfortunately, countries with nuclear weapons have the power. If you have the bomb, nobody is threatening you with military intervention; this is the basic difference between Iran and North Korea. Until now, Iran has not decided to follow the road taken by Israel, North Korea and Pakistan and withdraw from the NPT, although this option was debated in the Iranian parliament.

I do welcome the fact that the UN is taking the leading role in dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons, although there will be many pitfalls on the way. I welcome the fact that the UN today will be debating on nuclear disarmament, although the expectations are low and the UN conference on disarmament has not been able to agree on anything during the last 15 years. I welcome the work and recent first report of the UN Open-ended Working Group, despite the fact that the Big Five declared that nuclear weapon states did not participate.

The world needs nuclear justice. Why not hand over the reins to states that do not possess nuclear weapons? Let them take the lead in the international non-proliferation process. The power of the Big Five simply does not guarantee a fair discussion on disarmament; they are not even participating in the Open-ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament. They also oppose any discussions on the humanitarian consequences of potential nuclear weapon use. The non-nuclear states should have a stronger voice in the Security Council, especially on nuclear proliferation and disarmament. They should also be involved in negotiations with Iran, now carried out by the Big Five and Germany.

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