February 4, 2010 4:03 am

Experts map route to disarmament

A group of leading arms-control experts will set out a route on Thursday by which the big nuclear powers could agree to abolish all atomic weapons by 2030.

The plan envisages an international accord to ensure that no state can develop or possess such arsenals again.

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At a Paris conference, a group called the Global Zero Commission – comprising several Russian and US arms-control policymakers of recent decades – will outline a four-stage strategy.

The move comes at a time of mounting scepticism over nuclear disarmament.

Despite progress in arms talks with Russia, the weapons-control agenda of Barack Obama, US president, has encountered difficulties, with many measures the US administration had initially sought appearing all but out of reach.

The Global Zero group will explain on Thursday that the first stage would be for the US and Russia – which possess 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons – to agree an accord to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (Start) treaty in the next few weeks. The deal would cut the ceiling for deployed nuclear weapons to between 1,500 and 1,675 per side.

This would need to be followed by a further accord by 2013 for both countries to cut total warheads to 1,000 each, while all other nuclear states freeze their arsenals. The group includes Richard Burt, the US chief negotiator in the original Start meetings with the former Soviet Union, and Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament. They argue that plans to eliminate nuclear arms face big political and technical hurdles, but give warning that the use of such weapons in the next few years is a rising threat.

Talks are not going smoothly. Mr Obama contacted Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, last month in an attempt to finalise negotiations over the post-Start treaty, and Washington hopes a text can be agreed in the coming weeks. But the treaty is already behind schedule. The US administration had hoped to agree if not ratify it by early December, when the old agreement expired.

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