March 30, 2023

United Nations – Foreign Minister Antony Blinken spoke at the United Nations Monday on what he called “a critical moment” in efforts to keep the world safe from nuclear threats.

At the opening of the 10th annual Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference at the UN, Blinken pointed to North Korea’s “illegal nuclear program” and “continued provocations”, Iran’s “nuclear escalation path” and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which includes to take control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

“We are deeply concerned that Russia has seized nuclear facilities in Ukraine, particularly Zaporizhzhia, one of the largest nuclear facilities in Europe,” Blinken said.

“There are credible reports, including in the media today, that Russia is using this plant as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it is shooting at Ukrainians from around the plant, and of course the Ukrainians cannot and will not detonate lest a terrible nuclear plant accident,” Blinken added, saying it was “the height of irresponsibility.”

Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station
File photo of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine on July 9, 2019.

Dmytro Smolyenko/Future Publishing via Getty Images

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are also at UN headquarters in New York for the opening days of the nuclear review conference, which had been postponed from 2020 , at a time when nuclear weapons threats and nuclear security are of increasing concern among world leaders.

“Today, humanity is only one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” said the UN secretary-general.

Grossi, the head of the international watchdog, called the war in Ukraine “so serious that the specter of a possible nuclear confrontation or accident has reared its terrifying head again.”

Grossi warned more specifically about Ukraine’s Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, saying “the situation is becoming more dangerous every day.”

“It’s urgent,” he said Last week, since the agency has been unable to visit the site since before the conflict began five months ago. On Monday, Grossi was clear about the risks: “While this war rages, inaction is unconscionable.”

“If an accident happens at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, we will not have a natural disaster to blame – we will only have ourselves to answer to,” Grossi said, adding: “We need everyone’s support.”

The nuclear agency has been trying for weeks to send a team to inspect the plant and on Monday asked for help from nations at the nuclear conference.

“Moving there is a very complicated thing, because it requires the understanding and cooperation of certain actors, especially Moscow and Kiev, as well as the support of the United Nations, since the plant is in a war zone,” Grossi said on Tuesday. “I’m trying to build a mission again to get there as soon as possible.”

But both Russia and Ukraine say they would welcome a visit, and the Kremlin responded on Tuesday with an unusually angry response to the UN

“The UN Secretariat blocked an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) for political reasons… an unpleasant role in this story was played by the UN Secretariat, which for purely political reasons blocked an initiative of the IAEA,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the secretary general, denied the allegations, telling CBS News, “the suggestion that the IAEA director general did not arrive in Zaporizhzhia because of the UN secretary general is ridiculous.”

Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told CBS News on Tuesday that “Ukraine and the IAEA have been discussing the visit for some time,” adding that the visit should address security issues as well as international and Ukrainian law. However, Kyslytsya stressed that Ukraine was working with the nuclear agency on proposals and said media reports that Ukraine rejected the visit were false.

Meanwhile, all sides are worried about a nuclear accident.

Blinken told CBS News at a press conference that “Ukraine had the confidence to give up the (nuclear) weapons it inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed because of the commitments Russia made to respect and protect its sovereignty, its independence, its structural integrity. ”

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks to the media after attending the 10th annual review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at UN headquarters on August 1, 2022 in New York.

Getty Images

“The fact that Russia has now done the exact opposite, that it has attacked Ukraine unprovoked in an attempt to erase that sovereignty and independence sends a terrible message to countries around the world making decisions about whether or not to pursue nuclear weapons. arms. Blinken said.

He was referring to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, an agreement in which the United States, Russia and Britain pledged “to respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine” after the collapse of the Soviet Union and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against him — assures that convinced Ukraine to abandon “what amounted to the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, consisting of some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads,” according to a Brookings analysis.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, established in 1968 to prevent the spread of weapons technology, sought to keep the number of nuclear states to a minimum, but the nuclear genie it’s been an uphill battle in the bottle. The nuclear weapon states at the time were Britain, China, France and Russia (the Soviet Union at the time), and the number of nuclear weapons they possess has declined since the height of the Cold War. But in the years since, India, Pakistan and North Korea have developed nuclear weapons, and Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, although it has neither confirmed nor denied the existence of a program.

Iran has been moving forward with its nuclear program since the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear pact, but has yet to produce a weapon. Iran’s nuclear chief said this week that Iran has the ability to build a nuclear weapon but has no plan to do so.

The UN conference will continue throughout August and the nuclear activities of North Korea and Iran are sure to be discussed daily.

North Korea “continues to expand its illegal nuclear program and continues its ongoing provocations against the region,” Blinken said. “As we gather today, Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test.”

The secretary-general’s assessment of nuclear threats was chilling: “Proliferation risks are increasing and safeguards to prevent escalation are weakening.”

Guterres heads to Hiroshima at the end of the week, marking the anniversary of the US nuclear bombing in World War II – an event not lost on the event’s speakers. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that Russia indirect warning that could use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war added “to the global concern that another catastrophe from the use of nuclear weapons is a real possibility.”

Blinken also said to respond to threats China has made for the eventuality of the President of the Parliament Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan, a self-governing island that China is determined to reunite with the mainland.

Blinken said: “The speaker will make her own decisions about whether or not to visit Taiwan. Congress is an independent co-equal branch of government – the decision is entirely up to the speaker.”

“If the speaker decides to visit and China tries to create some kind of crisis or otherwise escalate tensions, that would be entirely on Beijing,” Blinken said. “We are looking for them, should he decide to visit, to act responsibly and not engage in any escalation in the future.”

On Monday, China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun said China would defend its security and sovereignty if Pelosi visits Taiwan. He described the possible visit as “challenging and serious”.

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