US nuclear envoy visits South Africa

US President Barack Obama has sent a special nuclear envoy to South Africa to seek Pretoria’s support for more nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and provision of peaceful nuclear energy to developing countries.

These are the three pillars of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is to be reviewed at a conference at the UN in New York in May.

Susan Burk, Obama’s special representative to the NPT, met South Africa’s veteran disarmament expert Abdul Minty last week to discuss what could be done to ensure a successful review conference.

The last review conference in 2005 during the Bush administration was a failure.

But Burk and Minty had worked closely before to ensure the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995.

Burk believes South Africa, “a key partner”, has a “unique moral authority”, because of its voluntary scrapping of nuclear weapons in 1991, to help make the 2010 conference a success.

She acknowledged in an interview on Friday that South Africa and other non-nuclear-power states had been disappointed by the slow progress of the world’s five official nuclear powers in dismantling their nuclear weapons.

“But now the US has an opportunity we have not had in a while to advance the agenda on all three pillars of the NPT,” she said.

This referred to Obama’s commitment – in a speech in Prague last year – to a nuclear-weapons-free world and particularly his resumption of negotiations with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles “to their lowest level in decades”.

The US is aiming to sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia before the NPT conference in May to boost its credibility at the conference. Burk said the US was ready to “participate very constructively and substantively” in the conference. But she declined to map out exactly what advances the US would propose, saying she did not wish to pre-empt Obama’s announcement next month of a new US nuclear posture.

Minty agreed with Burk that both countries needed a successful review conference in May because of the failure in 2005, but he also advised caution. “We welcome the fact that the new Obama administration is committed to multilateralism. We welcome the Prague speech, but if expectations are raised too high and they are not met, this could be damaging,” he warned.

Source: (, 20100222)

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