Nuclear panel meets in Hiroshima, seeks ways for nuke-free world

by Takaki Tominaga

An international panel on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament opened a meeting Sunday in Hiroshima, the world's first city to suffer an atomic bombing, seeking ways to bring about a world without nuclear weapons.

During the three-day conference attended by 25 panel members including co-chairs former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, the International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament is expected to discuss concrete steps for reducing the number of nuclear weapons and restricting their use.

''We had a very productive discussion,'' Kawaguchi said, expressing her satisfaction over the opening-day debate.

Kawaguchi said discussions on the cruelty and inhumanity of nuclear weapons, based on what atomic-bomb survivors experienced in August 1945, were among the highlights of the session. She added some of the commission's members proposed to emphasize the suffering resulting from nuclear weapons in a final report from a humanitarian standpoint.

On Saturday, commission members met with atomic-bomb survivors at the peace memorial museum when they toured the peace memorial park and other venues in the western Japan city, Kawaguchi said, noting they were deeply moved by the stories they heard.

Earlier, Evans said at the opening of the session, ''It's a really, very, very compelling experience among us. It really does concentrate our mind on the importance of getting this right.''

Survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and their supporters are asking the commission to stipulate in the report a clear deadline for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

They also want the report to call for an early commencement of negotiations to conclude a Nuclear Weapons Convention to ban such armaments.

In a separate meeting with the commission on Saturday, a member of a survivors' support group said, ''We want the complete elimination of nuclear arms to be realized while we are still alive.''

On the progress of the session to work on a draft of the report scheduled to be released in January, Kawaguchi said it has completed about one third of the draft so far and will move on Monday to the core contents of the discussion, which are action plans toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.

In the draft titled ''Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers,'' the commission ambitiously targets reducing the number of existing nuclear warheads in the world from more than 20,000 to 1,000 or fewer by 2025 and making every nuclear state commit to a no-first-use doctrine by that year. The initial target for adoption of the doctrine was 2010 in an earlier draft.

The doctrine refers to a pledge by a nuclear power not to use nuclear weapons unless it or its allies come under nuclear attack.

Another highlight of Sunday's session was a debate over whether nuclear deterrence actually works, Kawaguchi said.

The commission members are expected to engage in heated discussions on some key points including the no-first-use doctrine, with some differences of opinion on the issue having been reported. One member said, however, he is optimistic that they will be able to reach a consensus by Tuesday.

''This is the key effort we have to make further in the next three days'' in order to compile a final report prior to the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference slated for May in New York, Evans said.

The commission hopes the report will serve as a roadmap for the ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, which was proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama in Prague in April.

The commission was established at the initiative of Australia and Japan, and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and then Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda agreed on its launch in July 2008. It held its first meeting in Sydney in October 2008 and the Hiroshima meeting is the fourth session.

Other commission members include former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and former Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations Wang Yingfan.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Oct. 18, 2009)