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Pakistan’s Block on Nuclear Treaty Talks Tests U.S. ‘Patience’

Pakistan’s refusal to allow international talks to proceed on a treaty to stop production of plutonium and uranium for nuclear bombs prompted the U.S. to say today that it’s losing patience and looking for “options.”

U.S. nuclear arms negotiator Rose Gottemoeller said she sought to convey to a conference in Geneva today “that patience is running out.”

“We need to be thinking about this as an all-out effort this year,” Gottemoeller said in a telephone interview after her speech at the latest session of the Conference on Disarmament, which is charged with negotiating the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and requires consensus to proceed. “But if not, we’re going to have to consider other options.”

Most participants believe they need to make progress this year, she said, declining to specify what alternatives the U.S. is considering.

The delay reflects traditional tensions between India and Pakistan, which both tested nuclear weapons in May 1998. The U.S. has embraced India’s pursuit of nuclear energy for civilian use while tussling with Pakistan over its weapons program and threats from militants on its soil.

“Pakistan and India continue to produce fissile material and don’t want to stop,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonprofit group in Washington that tracks the process. “And the other countries don’t consider this serious enough an issue to make it a priority in their bilateral relations with the two countries.”

Bomb Fuel

As of November, Pakistan had enough highly enriched uranium and plutonium to build 80 to 100 bombs, and India had sufficient supplies for 140, according to Kimball. Pakistan’s leaders say they need to produce more to keep pace with India.

The United Nations General Assembly called for negotiations toward a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons in 1993. Pakistan has blocked talks since then, most recently after a brief breakthrough in May 2009, when the Conference on Disarmament agreed on a work plan.

Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva, said his country objects to the treaty because it would enable India to divert its fissile material to military uses, according to a Jan. 14 report by the Press Trust of India.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the Geneva conference yesterday for progress, and the U.S. is offering to send experts to help discuss verification standards in hopes of swaying “the countries who have concerns.”

“I don’t expect a serious breakthrough any time soon,” Kimball said.

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