CTBT conference opens in N.Y., U.S. rejoins for 1st time in decade

Foreign ministers from about 150 countries Thursday kicked off a conference in New York on an international treaty to ban nuclear tests, with the United States joining the biennial meeting for the first time in 10 years.

Foreign ministers and other diplomats from the countries that have already ratified or at least signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty gathered at U.N. headquarters for the two-day meeting and adopted a declaration, calling for the early entry into force of the 1996 treaty.

''We the ratifiers, together with the states signatories, met in New York to promote the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty at the earliest possible date,'' the declaration said.

Leading the U.S. delegation is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who told her counterparts, ''We are glad to be back.''

''To put it plainly, we support this treaty because it strengthens the prospects of a peaceful, stable and secure world, and would enhance the security of the American people,'' Clinton said.

U.S. participation in the conference, which had been held every other year since 1999 without U.S. involvement, signals Washington's strong commitment to support the CTBT under the administration of President Barack Obama.

''We believe that the CTBT contributes to our global non-proliferation and disarmament strategy as well as the president's long-range vision,'' Clinton said. ''It does so without jeopardizing the safety, security, or credibility of our nuclear arsenal. By pursuing these goals and supporting the CTBT, we are working in the interest of all nations committed to non-proliferation and to reducing the threat of nuclear attack.''

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said in opening remarks that ''The participation of the United States led by Secretary of State Clinton for the first time demonstrates the commitment of the United States to work toward its ratification of the treaty.''

The U.N. chief's remarks were followed by the meeting's unanimous adoption of the declaration, which said, ''We call upon all states which have not yet done so, to sign and ratify the treaty without delay, in particular, those states whose ratification is needed for entry into force.''

The declaration recognized recent moves by some countries to ratify the treaty, including the United States. ''Noting the improved prospects for ratification in several...countries, we renew our strong conviction that entry into force of the CTBT will enhance international peace and security.''

Ban told reporters later in the day ''a new momentum for a world free of nuclear weapons'' is being created in the world. ''The momentum is rare, and we must seize this momentum,'' the U.N. chief said.

Obama, who is calling for a nuclear-free world and whose campaign pledges included ratifying the treaty, has raised hope among those who support the CTBT.

This year's conference is intended to rally international support for nuclear nonproliferation before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York next May.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told the meeting that Japan is prepared to take the initiative in setting in motion global efforts for the early entry into force of the CTBT.

Specifically, Japan will send a high-level envoy to the countries that have yet to ratify or sign the treaty, Okada said.

He also said Japan will expand a program to train seismology experts who are to monitor nuclear tests.

Okada blasted North Korea's second nuclear test in May as posing a threat to peace and security of the international community and going against the international consensus of seeking a nuclear-free world.

The CTBT was approved at a session of the U.N. General Assembly in September 1996. Then President Bill Clinton signed the treaty that year but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to ratify it. The treaty was rejected by the George W. Bush administration.

As of August 2009, 181 countries had signed the treaty and 148 had ratified it. But of the 44 states whose ratifications are required for it to enter into force, nine have yet either to sign or ratify it.

The nine countries consist of the six that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty -- China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel and the United States -- and the three that have not signed it -- India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Okada urged the leaders of the nine countries to make a bold decision.

The U.S. ratification would require the approval of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and winning over the opposition Republicans, who have shown strong resistance to the treaty, is likely to be a challenge.

In a speech in Prague in April, Obama laid out an ambitious vision for a world without nuclear weapons, saying the United States will take the lead in realizing this goal as the only country to have used such weapons.

The president stressed his determination to hammer out a new deal with Russia to further reduce strategic nuclear weapons by the year's end.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Sept. 25, 2009)