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By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will chair a rare summit meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eradicating the world's atomic arsenals.
The heads of state or government of all 15 council members have been invited and are expected to attend the session, which takes place on the sidelines of the annual gathering of leaders of the 192 nations that comprise the U.N. General Assembly.
HOW RARE ARE SECURITY COUNCIL SUMMITS?
This will be the fifth meeting of the Security Council at the head-of-state level since it was established in 1946 and the first time a U.S. president will preside over it. The United States holds the council's monthly rotating presidency.
The first Security Council summit was on Jan. 31, 1992, and it was chaired by British Prime Minister John Major. U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin, president of the newly created Russian Federation, were among the participants.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN DURING THE SUMMIT?
According to a letter from U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the three main issues to be discussed are nuclear arms control and disarmament, strengthening the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and denying and disrupting illicit trafficking in materials used in atomic weapons.
Bilateral arms control treaties between Russia and the United States also will come up, Rice said.
Washington hopes the summit will bolster support for global nuclear arms control treaties and disarmament efforts, including the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
Council members also are expected to voice support for negotiations on a treaty that would ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, the intrusive inspection regime under the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency's "Additional Protocol," ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, or CTBT, that would ban all nuclear tests, and other arms control efforts.
The Bush administration had rejected the CTBT but Obama has vowed to submit it to the Senate for ratification.
Diplomats and analysts say the U.S. decision to organize the summit highlights the sharp shift on disarmament policy taken by the Obama administration. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, angered many NPT members by ignoring disarmament commitments made by previous U.S. governments, analysts say.
Developing countries complain that discussions of nuclear weapons have tended to focus almost exclusively on non-proliferation issues while ignoring disarmament. U.S. officials say the Security Council summit is meant to change that.
WILL THE MEETING PRODUCE ANYTHING?
The U.S. delegation has circulated a draft resolution covering the issues Rice mentioned in her letter to Ban. Washington hopes the council will unanimously approve the resolution.
The draft urges all states with atomic weapons -- whether or not they are members of the NPT -- to get rid of them.
The five permanent council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- all have nuclear weapons. The "other" nuclear states -- referred to but not named in the resolution -- are Pakistan and India, which have not signed the NPT but are known to have atomic arsenals, and Israel, which neither confirms nor denies having nuclear arms but is presumed to have a sizable stockpile of warheads.
The draft also calls for a crackdown on trafficking in sensitive nuclear materials and technology and voices support for the IAEA and global non-proliferation efforts.
WILL THE SUMMIT FOCUS ON INDIVIDUAL COUNTRIES?
Rice has said repeatedly the meeting will not focus on individual countries but on the broader goals of non-proliferation and disarmament. But Western diplomats say it is likely the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, which they say are the biggest nuclear threats facing the world, will be mentioned by some of the speakers.
Council diplomats say that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi may bring up the presumed nuclear arsenal of Tripoli's archenemy Israel. Rice has said that she hopes Gaddafi, who has been known to speak extemporaneously for long stretches, will stick to the allotted time limit of five minutes for individual statements.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE SUMMIT?
U.N. diplomats say the meeting is intended to send several messages to the world:
* that the United States considers itself and the other nuclear powers bound by their NPT commitments to engage in negotiations on eradicating nuclear weapons;
* that countries like North Korea and Iran will know that the pursuit of atomic weapons will not be tolerated;
* that the United States and other council members are determined that a major conference next year taking stock of the NPT's 40-year history will be a success.
(Editing by Bill Trott)
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