TOKYO (AFP) – UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has appealed for better diplomacy on Iran and North Korea, warning against “sleepwalking” into a world where all nations feel they need nuclear weapons.
Annan, visiting Japan on a five-nation tour of Asia, said that all sides had to tone down the fiery rhetoric over Iran and negotiate face-to-face, and called to resume six-nation disarmament talks with Pyongyang.
In a speech at the University of Tokyo, Annan said the world appeared “to have reached a crossroads” on whether nations should restrict nuclear weapons or feel obliged to possess them.
“The international community seems almost to be sleepwalking down the latter path — not by conscious choice but rather through miscalculation, sterile debate and the paralysis of multilateral mechanisms for confidence-building and conflict resolution,” he said.
Annan regretted that two international meetings last year failed to strengthen the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has become the bedrock of efforts against nuclear weapons.
“This sent a terrible signal,” Annan said, adding that each pillar of the treaty “has been put into doubt.”
“While some progress toward disarmament has taken place, nuclear weapons worldwide still number in the thousands, many of them on hair-trigger alert,” he said.
He warned to brace for new challenges, such as nuclear proliferation of the type carried out by disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
“Perhaps most damaging of all, there is also a perception that the possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction offers the best protection against being attacked,” Annan said.
He hailed the approach of Japan, the world’s second largest economy, which is the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack and remains officially pacifist.
“You have shown that a state does not need nuclear weapons to be normal. Nor does it need to be armed to the teeth in order to exercise influence,” Annan said.
The NPT had established only five nuclear powers — Britain, China, France, the then-Soviet Union and the United States — and nearly all other countries signed on.
Rivals India and Pakistan both declared themselves nuclear powers in 1998 and are not part of the treaty, nor is Israel, which has never acknowledged having the atomic bomb but widely believed to have it.
North Korea pulled out of the treaty in 2003 to world shock and last year claimed to have nuclear weapons.
More recently, Iran has threatened to quit the treaty and said it has enriched uranium — which Western nations believe is to develop weapons.
The European Union has said it is preparing a “bold package” of incentives for Iran to give up its nuclear program. But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already ridiculed the idea.
“There is also a need to lower the temperature and refrain from actions and rhetoric that could further inflame the situation,” Annan said about the Iranian crisis.
“The only way forward is through negotiations with all parties sitting at the table, face-to-face,” he said.
North Korea has refused to return to six-nation disarmament talks since November, protesting US financial sanctions against the impoverished regime over money laundering and counterfeiting.
“Still, there is no viable alternative to the six-party talks. The international community must do everything possible to move the process forward and resolve the situation peacefully,” Annan said.