United States and Allies Protest U.N. Talks to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, spoke on Monday outside the nuclear weapons ban talks, flanked by Alexis Lamek, left, France’s deputy United Nations ambassador, and Matthew Rycroft, right, the British ambassador to the United Nations. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
UNITED NATIONS — Saying the time was not right to outlaw nuclear arms, the United States led a group of dozens of United Nations members on Monday that boycotted talks at the global organization for a treaty that would ban the weapons.
“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons,” Ambassador Nikki R. Haley of the United States told reporters outside the General Assembly as the talks began. “But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?”
Ms. Haley and other ambassadors standing with her, including envoys from Albania, Britain, France and South Korea, declined to take questions.
The talks, supported by more than 120 countries, were first announced in October and are led by Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden. Disarmament groups strongly support the effort.
The United States and most other nuclear powers, including Russia, oppose the talks. The Obama administration voted against convening them.
The talks come against the backdrop of increasing worries over the intentions of a reclusive North Korea, which has tested nuclear weapons and missiles that could conceivably carry them. Defying international sanctions, the North Koreans have threatened to strike the United States and its allies with what North Korea’s state news media has called the “nuclear sword of justice.”
Ms. Haley and Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of Britain emphasized that their countries had vastly reduced the size of their nuclear arsenals since the height of the Cold War.
Mr. Rycroft said his country was not participating in the talks “because we do not believe that those negotiations will lead to effective progress on global nuclear disarmament.”
Ms. Haley questioned whether countries favoring a weapons ban understood the nature of global threats. Referring to nations participating in the talks, she said, “You have to ask yourself, are they looking out for their people?”
She cited North Korea and Iran in articulating her opposition to the talks. But those countries have taken divergent positions. North Korea, like the United States and its allies, is sitting out the talks. Iran, which does not have nuclear weapons and has promised not to acquire them, is participating.
“Is it any surprise that Iran is in support of this?” Ms. Haley said.
Her counterparts from Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, did not join her protest group. But they are not participating in the talks.
Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia said in Moscow last week that his government did not support a global nuclear weapons ban, essentially agreeing with the American position.
“Efforts to coerce nuclear powers to abandon nuclear weapons have intensified significantly recently,” the Tass news agency quoted him as saying. “It is absolutely clear that the time has not yet come for that.”
Proponents of a nuclear weapons ban have acknowledged the challenges of reaching a treaty, but have been encouraged by efforts that led to landmark prohibitions on other weapons, including chemical weapons, land mines and cluster munitions.
If a sufficient number of countries were to ratify a nuclear weapons ban, supporters contend, it would create political and moral pressure on holdouts, including the big nuclear powers.
Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said in a statement that the opposition expressed by Ms. Haley and her allies “demonstrates how worried they are about the real impact of the nuclear ban treaty.”
Ms. Fihn, whose organization is a strong supporter of the negotiations, said a treaty would “make it clear that the world has moved beyond these morally unacceptable weapons of the past.”
Humanitarian aid groups not directly engaged in disarmament causes also endorsed the talks.
“Of course, adopting a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons will not make them immediately disappear,” Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in a statement. “But it will reinforce the stigma against their use, support commitments to nuclear risk reduction and be a disincentive for proliferation.”
As the talks began inside the General Assembly hall, Toshiki Fujimori, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, made an emotional appeal to diplomats.
“I’m here at the U.N. asking for an abolition of nuclear weapons,” he said through an interpreter. “Nobody in any country deserves seeing the same hell again.”
More than 2,000 scientists signed an open letter endorsing the talks.
“We scientists bear a special responsibility for nuclear weapons, since it was scientists who invented them and discovered that their effects are even more horrific than first thought,” stated the letter, posted on the website of the Future of Life Institute, a charitable organization that promotes the peaceful use of technology.
Quoting President Ronald Reagan, the letter stated, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
A version of this article appears in print on March 28, 2017, on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: United States and Allies Boycott U.N. Talks for a Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons.
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