The negotiation of a verifiable fissile material closure treaty (FMCT) was one of the central principles and objectives that contributed to the permanent extension of the NPT at the 1995 Review and Extension Conference, and it was again endorsed by States parties at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. The five nuclear-weapon States have also contributed to this effort, as they have all ceased to produce fissile material for weapons. However, in recent years, negotiations on such a treaty have been stalled by the failure of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) to agree on its broader programme of work. Recently, China, the United States and other countries have put forward proposals that could provide impetus to advance the FMCT negotiation process. However, before diplomats reach this stage, a potential new hurdle emerges: ensuring that the negotiating mandate remains consensual. Currently, the negotiating mandate for the CD, stemming from a 1993 UN General Assembly resolution[1], describes the following: an FMCT prohibits « the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices » and the treaty must be « non-discriminatory, multilateral and internationally and effective verifiable ». The United States had supported the mandate for the past decade, but in July, Bush administration officials concluded that an effective international review of an FMCT was realistic. The government continues to support the upcoming conclusion of an FMCT to define cutoff as an international standard, but is concerned that perceived technical verification difficulties will seriously delay the conclusion of the contract. From their point of view, the potential points of friction are, for example, how to distinguish new production from existing materials and how to verify that production purportedly intended for marine fuel is actually used for this purpose. There is, however, no reason why these difficulties should lead to a dead end. There is a way to respond to the desire of the United States to conclude a treaty expeditly and to the general desire for a treaty with effective consideration: the separation of the issues of political objectives and commitments and verification measures into two separate negotiations.

In fact, there is already a model in the NPT. Reflections on verification Is there anything in the concept of FMCT that makes it naturally incapable of conducting effective verification? This depends on the objectives of an FMCT, as reflected in its material provisions to be negotiated. We must ensure that questions of verifiability are not confused with differences over objectives or issues of contractual architecture. For example, the general concept of FMCT does not prohibit the production of additional nuclear weapons from unguarded stockpiles of fissile material existing before the entry into force of an FMCT. . . .