Humanity one step away from ‘nuclear annihilation’ amid war in Ukraine and US tensions with Iran, warns UN chief Antonio Guterres

THE UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has sounded the alarm over the war in Ukraine, nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East and other tensions, warning that “humanity is just a misunderstanding, a mistake away from nuclear annihilation”.

The warning came Monday as a pandemic-delayed conference opened to review the 50-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately achieve a world without nuclear.

The threat of nuclear disaster was also raised by the United States, Japan, Germany, the UN nuclear chief and many other opening speakers.

Russia, which faced criticism from some speakers, did not deliver its speech in the scheduled time slot on Monday but was due to speak on Tuesday. The representative of China was due to speak on Tuesday.

“engaged in reckless and dangerous nuclear saber-thrusts” in Ukraine.

He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning after his February 24 invasion that any attempt to interfere would have “consequences you’ve never seen”, pointing out that his country is “one of the most more powerful”.

MORE: 1st grain-carrying ship leaves Odessa port amid war in Ukraine

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said divisions around the world since the last review conference in 2015, which ended without a consensus document, had deepened, adding that Russia’s threat to use weapons nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine has contributed “to global concern that another catastrophe through the use of nuclear weapons is a real possibility.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Moscow’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric” since its invasion of its smaller neighbor “jeopardizes everything the NPT has achieved in five decades”.

Putin appeared to backtrack on his nuclear warning in a message of greetings to NPT participants posted on his website Monday.

“We believe that a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the global community,” the Russian leader said.

Blinken also noted that Russia has seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya and is using it as a military base to fire on the Ukrainians, “knowing that they cannot and will not return fire because they might accidentally hit a nuclear reactor or highly radioactive waste in storage.” He said it takes the notion of having “a human shield to an entirely different and gruesome level”.

Russia’s delegation to the NPT released a statement Monday evening strongly rejecting Blinken’s claim that Russia is using the Zaporizhzhya power plant as a military base, saying a limited number of military personnel are there “to ensure the safety and security of the power plant”.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the conflict in Ukraine is “so serious that the specter of a potential nuclear confrontation, or an accident, has once again reared its terrifying head. “.

He warned that at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant “the situation is becoming more and more perilous day by day”, and he urged all countries to help make possible his visit to the plant with a team of experts in IAEA safety and security, claiming its efforts for the past two months without success.

António Guterres said the month-long review conference is taking place “at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War”.

The conference is “an opportunity to define the measures that will avert certain catastrophes and put humanity on a new path towards a world without nuclear weapons”, he said.

But Guterres warned that “geopolitical weapons are reaching new heights,” nearly 13,000 nuclear weapons are in arsenals around the world, and countries seeking “false security” are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “weapons apocalyptic”.

“All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are increasing and the safeguards to prevent escalation are weakening,” he said, “And when crises – with nuclear connotations – escalate from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and many other factors around the world.”

António Guterres called on conference participants to take several steps: urgently strengthen and reaffirm “the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons”, work tirelessly to eliminate nuclear weapons with new commitments to reduce arsenals, address “latent tensions in the Middle East and Asia” and promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

“Future generations are counting on your commitment to get out of the abyss,” he implored the ministers and diplomats. “Now is the time for us to take up this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”

Japan’s Kishida, recalling his hometown of Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945, echoed many of Guterres’ points saying the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become more difficult but “giving up n is not an option”.

In force since 1970, the Non-Proliferation Treaty has the widest membership of any arms control agreement, with some 191 countries being members.

Under its terms, the original five nuclear powers – the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France – agreed to negotiate for the elimination of a their arsenals and the nations without nuclear weapons have promised not to acquire them in exchange. for a guarantee of being able to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

India and Pakistan, which did not join the NPT, got the bomb. North Korea followed suit, which ratified the pact but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is suspected of having a nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it.

The meeting, which ends Aug. 26, aims to generate consensus on next steps, but expectations are low for substantial agreement, if any.


Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

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