UN Official: Iran “Closest” to Ratify CTBT

UN Official: Iran “Closest” to Ratify CTBT  UN Official: Iran “Closest” to Ratify CTBT

The head of the UN Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization said Iran is "closest" among the holdout nations to ratify the treaty and assuring the world they will never conduct a nuclear test explosion.

Iran says its nuclear program is totally for peaceful purposes and has no military aspects.

Lassina Zerbo also said this week that having Iran and Israel ratify together would "certainly" lead to Egypt's ratification, and pave the way for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East, AP reported.

The treaty, known as CTBT, has 196 member states, of which 183 have signed the treaty and 164 have ratified it. But the treaty has not entered into force because it still needs ratification by Israel and seven countries that had nuclear power reactors or research reactors when the UN General Assembly adopted the treaty in 1996: the United States, China, Iran, Egypt, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Zerbo, speaking during a weeklong conference marking the 20th anniversary of the treaty being opened for signing, said he does not expect immediate results on ratification, but is hoping to visit both Iran and Israel and talk to their senior officials because "I think that they're the ones who can unlock what is stopping the CTBT from moving".

  Low-Hanging Fruit

The UN official said the implementation of last summer's deal to limit Iran's nuclear activities has alleviated concerns over the country's program.  

Zerbo said the next step should then be to ratify the CTBT, which both Iran and Israel signed in 1996. He called this "a low-hanging fruit," toward the goal of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.

"Israel and Iran can make a huge difference for this treaty and they have nothing to lose," Zerbo said.

He said ratification by Iran and Israel would help provide momentum first for Egypt to ratify the CTBT and then to start negotiations for a nuclear test-free zone in the Middle East.

Zerbo said a nuclear test-free zone is an achievable step toward the much more difficult goal of establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

"You can't jump and get a weapon-free zone in the Middle East if the CTBT isn't ratified," he said.

Arab nations have been calling for a nuclear-free zone since the mid-1990s but efforts to hold a conference to discuss the possibility have failed. One key issue has been differences with Israel, which is widely believed to have an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons but has avoided confirming or denying their existence.

But if Israel, Iran and Egypt ratify the CTBT, Zerbo said this will put pressure on the United States to ratify as well.

US President Barack Obama wants to ratify the treaty, he said, but his hands are tied by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Zerbo said ratification by Iran, Israel and Egypt would convince conservative Republicans in the US Senate to reconsider their opposition and support the treaty. Looking at the current world situation and the other holdouts, the UN official said China will not ratify before the United States, India will not ratify before China and Pakistan will not ratify before India, which means US action is also crucial.

"North Korea, the only country to test nuclear weapons in the 21st century, is least likely of the key countries to ratify the CTBT," he said.

Zerbo said the international community needs to change the way it engages with North Korea, which earlier this month said it exploded a hydrogen bomb in its fourth nuclear test, which has not been confirmed.