May 24, 2018 / 3:09 PM / 6 months ago

U.N. chief sets out disarmament vision, from hand grenades to H-bombs

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres unveiled a global disarmament strategy on Thursday just as U.S. President Donald Trump cancelled a summit on nuclear disarmament with North Korea’s leader.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is seen before delivering a speech on disarmament and denuclearisation at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) in Geneva, Switzerland, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

U.N. officials billed the speech as the first ever push for comprehensive arms control by a leader of the world body but the White House announcement underlined the difficulty of achieving the vision.

“We are living in dangerous times. Cold War tensions have returned to a world that has grown more complex,” Guterres told students at the University of Geneva.

He said leaders had a responsibility to minimise the risk of weapons and said disarmament was a concern for every country and should cover weapons “from hand grenades to H-bombs”.

The speech came shortly after the White House cancelled a summit next month between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Guterres said he was deeply concerned at the news and urged the two sides to keep talking to try to find a path to peaceful and verifiable denuclearisation of the divided Korean peninsula.

Eliminating nuclear weapons remained the highest priority for the United Nations, but efforts to achieve that goal were in a state of severe crisis.

“Our world is going backwards,” Guterres said. “Governments are pouring resources into updating old weapons systems, developing new ones, and entering into what many see as a new arms race, based on quality rather than quantity.”

He wanted to see nuclear powers resuming dialogue and negotiations for nuclear arms control and disarmament, extending norms against nuclear weapons and proliferation, and preparing for a world free of nuclear weapons.

His 88-page disarmament plan, entitled “Securing our common future”, set out the problems facing disarmament efforts in each area, and some actions that could be taken, such as beefing up the world’s defences against biological threats.

“Natural pandemics, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, have shown the damage that infectious diseases can inflict,” it said.

“A deliberately released disease could be many times more devastating and the world remains largely unprepared.”

In the area of chemical weapons, his plan said the U.N. Security Council had failed to live up to its responsibilities, and its recent efforts to police chemical weapons in Syria had “descended into a tragic form of political theatre.”

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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