WASHINGTON: The United States is working with the UN Security Council on a resolution that can slow down a dangerous nuclear race between Pakistan and India.

White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told the US media that the proposed resolution would “strengthen existing national moratoria on nuclear explosive testing and improve the global verification architecture for detecting such testing”.

At the conclusion of their two-day conference in Washington on Thursday, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (P5) urged other states to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The US, Russia, China, France and Britain also reaffirmed their national moratoria on nuclear weapons test explosions or any other nuclear explosions pending the CTBT’s entry into force.

So far, 164 states have ratified the CTBT and another 19 have signed but not ratified it. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the US have signed but not ratified the treaty; India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.

Read: Pakistan still ahead of India in arms race

The treaty will come into force when all 44 states that had nuclear facilities when the UN General Assembly adopted the treaty in 1996 after decades of negotiations sign and ratify it.

Of them, 35 have ratified the treaty. Since India and Pakistan are among the nine nations that have not signed or ratified the treaty, any move that strengthens the CTBT would also increase pressure on these two nuclear armed nations to join the agreement.

Diplomatic observers say that while it’s still early to bring India and Pakistan into the CTBT, resolutions like the one the US is working on could persuade them to check their nuclear race. Both countries are ahead of others in producing nuclear weapons, and tensions over issue like Kashmir force other states to worry about the possibility of a nuclear conflict in South Asia.

“Our commitment to nuclear disarmament extends to efforts to bring the CTBT into force at an early date,” said a joint P5 statement issued in Washington on Thursday.

“We pledge to strive for the treaty’s early ratification and prompt entry into force and urge all states that have not done so to sign and ratify the treaty.”

The P5 states also urged other states to recognise that “a nuclear-weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion would defeat the object and purpose of the CTBT”.

Earlier on Thursday, US Under-Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said that the P5 officials would convene their first formal nuclear doctrines meeting in New York on Oct 6.

The Obama administration’s strong support for the move has alarmed Republican lawmakers who do not want the US to sign the CTBT or commit to any resolution that would curb the country’s freedom to further develop its nuclear programme.

The CTBT bans all nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, in all environments.

The US media reported this week that during his final trip to the UN General Assembly next week in New York, President Barack Obama might pledge not to strike another nation with nuclear missiles unless the other nation attacked first.

The reports also claimed that the administration was pushing a UN Security Council resolution that would ban all nuclear testing.

The US State Department, when asked to comment on the report about the United States committing itself to the no-first use doctrine, said Washington continued to “assess whether there are additional steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy, and pursue ways to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime further”.

But Mr Price said the US would not commit itself to “a UN Security Council resolution that would impose a legally binding prohibition on nuclear explosive testing”.

He also said that it was “in the US national security interest to reaffirm the moratoria against nuclear explosive testing”.

Not satisfied with the response, 33 Republican senators sent a letter to President Obama on Thursday, threatening to withhold congressional funding for an existing international monitoring system for nuclear tests if the administration signed up for any international obligations through the UN that the US senate had rejected previously. The senate had refused to ratify the CTBT.

Last week, CTBT’s Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo told reporters that his organisation was also urging Iran and Israel to sign and ratify the treaty. Their ratification, he added, could pave the way for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.

Pakistan, while not willing to sign the treaty before India, offered last month to consider transforming its unilateral moratorium into a bilateral agreement with India on banning nuclear testing.

Pakistan voted for the CTBT when it was adopted and announced a unilateral moratorium on further nuclear testing.

In Washington, State Department’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner welcomed Pakistan’s proposal and urged both countries to exercise restraint and engage in a dialogue to improve strategic stability.

Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2016

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