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Security Council will call for nuclear weapons to be scrapped

24 September 2009

A meeting of the UN Security Council is likely to today call for an end to the proliferation of all atomic weapons. Obama is set to chair the meeting, the first time a US president has done so.  The Council will discuss the US-drafted resolution which reportedly contains no specific mention of Iran or North Korea but does call on nations that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to sign up. This anonymity contrasts with Obama's speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday in which he named and blamed Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes for contributing to regional instability. Countries that are not yet signatories to the NPT include India, Pakistan and Israel. The resolution is also expected to call on states to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

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The ToD Verdict: The meeting and the resolution itself may be considered somewhat disingenuous by some states who consider that the permanent security council members, all of whom possess nuclear warheads, have failed to live up to the demands they have placed on other states in the past. Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi's call for Security Council reform in a speech made to the General Assembly highlighted the supposed hypocrisy of nuclear nations.

However, US sentiment appears to be genuine, as suggested by their planned attendance, the US's first since 1999, at the upcoming two-day conference on the CTBT, which the US senate has not yet ratified. In July Russia and the US also agreed to cut nuclear arsenals. This rather piecemeal but promising approach has been echoed by Britain's recent commitment to scale back the Trident programme, scrapping one of its four nuclear armed submarines. Whether the outcome of the Security Council meeting will catalyse more commitments or concrete action remains to be seen.

Although the proposed resolution does not name Iran, pressure is mounting on the country to abandon its quest for nuclear power, and, with it, the possibility of atomic weapons. Britain issued a statement on behalf of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany calling for a serious response from Iran. French president Sarkozy also demanded a response from Iran by December and Russia now appears to cooperating with the US on the necessity of sanctions. Of the five permanent members only China remains reticent but it backs diplomatic talks to end the standoff, an approach it is also taking with respect to North Korea. The increasing major-power unity on the question seems to be having some effect, illustrated by Ahmadinejad's relatively tempered speech at the UN General Assembly and his comments to the Washington Post that he is open to nuclear talks. Whether this will be backed by the response sought by the Council is yet to be seen.

Somali town braces for fight

A prominent Somali Islamist leader, Sheikh Hassan Abdullahi, has said he will not recognise the new administration in charge of Kismayu town. The administration was recently installed by al Shaabab, who administer the neighbouring Jubba region and, like Sheikh Hassan, are opposed to the official transitional government.  Sheikh Hassan claims that an agreement with al Shabaab on the joint administration of the town had been broken.

Reports suggest that both groups have now sent reinforcements to the town. Kismayu derives its value from its position as a strategic port allowing the supply of rebel groups. With further bloodshed expected, a UN report released yesterday highlighted the growing civilian plight resulting from the ongoing conflict. 

Meanwhile in the Somali capital, the latest al Shabaab attack on an AU base resulted in a gun battle that killed at least eight and left dozens wounded.

Taliban attack claims eleven lives

A Taliban ambush of a group of tribal elders travelling to Bannu town in northwest Pakistan left eleven pro-government militiamen dead this morning. The Pakistan government has taken to arming civilians in an attempt to bolster their overstretched security forces.

In a separate incident Pakistan security forces killed eight Taliban after foiling an ambush in the Malakan district of the Swat Valley. Pakistani authorities claim to have the Swat region largely under control after a large offensive in April secured the area.

US will keep sanctions but attempt talks with Burmese Junta

American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced on Wednesday that a policy review of the situation in Burma concluded that US sanctions should not be lifted but that efforts should be made to begin talks with the country's military rulers. She defended this seemingly mixed policy, describing the supposed incompatibility of the two initiatives as a ‘false choice'.

The Singapore Foreign Minister spoke in favour of the US decision which might see a convergence of US and regional policy towards Burma. The group of South East Asian nations, ASEAN, has been accused of being too soft on Burma, refusing to exclude the country from its forum. The UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon also spoke on the subject yesterday, urging the international community to help Burma hold credible elections next year.

Iraqi jailbreak by al Qaeda suspects

Eleven inmates escaped from a Tikrit jail in Iraq late last night. Five of the inmates, the majority of whom are thought to have links to al Qaeda, were awaiting execution. An Iraqi military spokesman beleived that six of the escapees were dangerous. The escape led to the imposition of a curfew falling on all the 250,000 residents of the city. There are no confirmed reports as to how the men escaped but it appears they fled through a window opened using a metal bar. Police have distributed wanted posters and border police are on high alert. Iraqi jails are notoriously overcrowded and this escape and the riots at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison earlier this month give some indication of the precarious nature of the Iraqi prison system.

Possible al Qaeda attack shuts US embassy in South Africa

A security threat possibly emanating from al Qaeda caused the closure of the US embassy and its consulates across South Africa on Tuesday.  The offices remained closed today, a national public holiday, but are expected to resume normal operations tomorrow. At the time of the closure the US would not provide details of the threat but reports today suggested it was a suspected al Qaeda attack. Although operations in South Africa face several security challenges resulting from the country's high rates of crime, it has not been considered a likely location for an al Qaeda attack. US embassies have suffered significant terrorist bomb attacks in Kenya and Tanzania.

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