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Statement by the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Hans Blix on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Signing of the Treaty of Tlatelolco

Vienna, Austria

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some treaties become firmly engrained in history and in our memories because of their important content or because of their striking names - or both. The Treaty of Westphalia, the Treaty of Erzerum and the Treaty of Algeciras are such instruments. Today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of another such treaty; one of great importance and carrying a conspicuous Aztec name - the Treaty of Tlatelolco.

Thirty years ago my predecessor as Director General of the IAEA, Dr. Sigvard Eklund, was present at the signing. He thereby acknowledged the readiness of the IAEA to accept the important task which the Treaty places upon the IAEA in the field of verification. The signing, indeed, showed the confidence of the signatories of the Treaty in the safeguards system of the IAEA and it was the starting point of a long and positive relation between the Agency and the Treaty and its organization, the OPANAL.

I am very happy to be present at Tlatelolco on this occasion - bringing the congratulations of the IAEA to the Latin American and Caribbean Parties to this Treaty.

I want to pay particular tribute to Mexico, which played a central role in bringing the Treaty to life. The Government of Mexico has been and remains one of the most persistent and active participants in the work on disarmament. One of the principal representatives of Mexico, who must be remembered today, was the late Alfonso Garcia Robles, whose iron determination and diplomatic skill helped to assure the conclusion of the Tlatelolco Treaty. He was like a demanding but benevolent and patient uncle, not only to his hard-working assistant, Lic. Sergio Gonzalez Galvez, but also to me, a young Swedish legal adviser to Mrs. Alva Myrdal. She was his political ally in Geneva and together they received the Nobel Prize for Peace. They both well deserved this unique recognition.

Concluded before the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Tlatelolco Treaty was a trail-blazer and forerunner setting an example and a precedent. It was made in the awareness that nuclear weapons did exist in several countries outside Latin America and signalled determination to keep such weapons out of the Latin American sphere. The zonal approach and the special entry into force clause responded fully to the need felt by some States for assurance that the commitment they made would become operative only when some or several other States would be subject to the same commitment. Although this construction has delayed the formal entry into force of the Treaty, it has not impeded its full operation for practically all States in the zone. We have now the expectation that all States in Latin America and the Caribbean will soon be parties to the Treaty and that all the safeguards agreements which must be concluded with the IAEA for the Treaty to enter into force will also soon be in place. In this regard permit me to express my appreciation to the many States, especially in the Caribbean, which have responded to the appeals from the IAEA, OPANAL and the Government of Mexico to enter into safeguards agreements in the last year to facilitate the early entry into force of the Treaty.

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Treaty of Tlatelolco has not only helped to keep nuclear weapons out of Latin America, it has also stimulated the acceptance of non-proliferation on a global basis. Indeed, with the end of the Cold War, the twin goals of universalization of non-proliferation and of drastic or full nuclear disarmament are no longer simply theoretical aims, but targets which an increasing number of seasoned politicians, diplomats and military leaders are advocating. Non-proliferation is not the end of the road to a saner world, but the beginning.

The zonal approach which was championed by the Tlatelolco Treaty has allowed the States in several regions, like Africa, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, to address specific needs and it is likely to become an indispensable approach for the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. The States of the region may need to go beyond the provisions of the global NPT and, for instance, supplement IAEA safeguards with a zonal verification mechanism. The might also decide that any installation for the enrichment of uranium or the reprocessing of spent fuel in a region must be under joint control. Such arrangements could be significant from the viewpoint of non-proliferation.

The zonal - or regional - approach has a potential usefulness for several other purposes. It may be the basis for arrangements to prevent any trafficking in nuclear materials. It may, in due course, be used for the disposal of nuclear wastes as it is, after all, not very rational that each country with a nuclear power programme, regardless how small, should need to establish deep geological disposal sites.

The Tlatelolco Treaty - in Article 17 - explicitly endorses the peaceful use of nuclear power. In the preamble it is stated that the Latin American countries "should use their right to ... access to this new source of energy in order to expedite the economical and social development of their peoples...". And, indeed, the name of the Treaty, which throughout the negotiations was "Treaty for the Denuclearization of Latin America", was changed at the last negotiating session to "Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America" - to make it clear that it was directed to assure the military denuclearization and was by no means opposed to civil nuclear power. The current concerns about the excessive global emissions, notably of carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels may yet lead to a realization of the Treaty's hope for a greater use of nuclear power.

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like to conclude on another note. The Treaty of Tlatelolco was a Latin American initiative, preceding the global approach and making Latin America and the Caribbean States a vanguard of a nuclear-weapon-free world community. Today we realize that conflicts and frictions between States in most regions, and certainly in this hemisphere, are no longer likely to be translated into armed contests.

Perhaps it is time for Latin American States to translate into political reality the proposal made by President Zelillo last year in the Rio Group at Cochabamba, Bolivia, for self restraint in the field of conventional weapons.

Latin American States, fortunately, already now have military expenditures which are low by international standards. However, in an era of increasing global and hemispheric détente it might be possible to cut these expenditures even further, reducing any risk of use of weapons. Saved resources could come to good use in development.

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Last update: 26 Nov 2019


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