Russia Defers on Africa Nuclear Treaty

CAIRO -- Forty-three African states signed a treaty declaring Africa free of nuclear weapons Thursday at a ceremony marred by Russian reservations about the document.

The Treaty of Pelindaba, named after the birthplace of the nuclear arsenal that South Africa later dismantled, bans the possession or deployment of nuclear weapons throughout the African continent and the islands around it.

Four of the five "declared" nuclear powers -- Britain, China, France and the United States -- signed separate protocols promising not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against African states and not to test nuclear devices in the region.

But Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk of Russia, the fifth nuclear power, said his country had not yet decided whether to sign the two protocols.

"We are thoroughly examining the question of signing. Obviously we will need some time to take the appropriate decisions, bearing in mind their multifaceted and long-term implications ... and given the ongoing existence in the region of military bases of other nuclear powers," he told the ceremony.

The African treaty already includes more states than either of its predecessors -- the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco covers 30 states in Latin America and the Caribbean and the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga for the South Pacific now has 14 signatories.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a vociferous opponent of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, told the signing ceremony the Africans had set an example that the Middle East and the rest of the world should follow. "I urge ... all the states of the Middle East to take a similar step between them so that we can protect this region from the dangers of these lethal weapons."

Israel, Egypt's neighbor and rival, has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and is widely believed to have nuclear weapons. It says it will discuss its nuclear program only after peace throughout the region.

Mubarak also urged the five nuclear states to speed up progress towards full nuclear disarmament.

"The least the non-nuclear states can demand is that they be protected from the dangers of these weapons and feel practical evolution towards nuclear disarmament by the nuclear states, which have promised to negotiate seriously on this," he said. "The international community ... must realize that nuclear deterrence, to which some people used to subscribe, is only an obstacle on the road to security and development."

, which stands on the threshold of a new historic era, must change the concepts which prevailed in past times.