UNITED NATIONS - Iran was criticized from all sides - from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano and from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And so was Israel (but not India and Pakistan) for its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
However, Iran may have the last laugh since the month-long unwieldy conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), can only adopt resolutions or outcome documents by consensus.
Still Secretary Clinton hoped a "supermajority" would agree to strengthen the treaty "and if Iran wants to be further isolated, it will stand outside that consensus." Separately, the US is seeking a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in the 15-member UN Security Council.
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delivered a scorching speech against the United States on the opening day of the NPT review conference, an event that occurs every five years among the now-189 signatories of the convention. The 40-year old agreement is credited with limiting the spread of atomic weapons and includes all countries except North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel, all of whom have nuclear arms.
Evoking Hiroshima, Ahmadinejad said: "Those who committed the first atomic bombardment are considered to be among the most hated individuals in human history...Regrettably, the government of the United States has not only used nuclear weapons but it also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including Iran."
Long and boring
But in his long, often boring address, the Iranian leader said little to allay fears about his own nuclear ambitions. (He was more interesting during a TV interview with Charlie Rose, saying sanctions would not work in a world of global trade, dissidents were not tortured in prison and judicial decisions were independent. )
Some 15 minutes into his speech, a small walk-out took place, including the sole American delegate and most of the most of the European Union diplomats - the British, French, Germans, Italians, Czechs, Austrians, and several others.
In response to the Iranian president, Clinton said Iran "offered the same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations against the United States and other parties at this conference. But that is not surprising. As you all heard this morning, Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability. "
Among several concrete US announcements, the most dramatic was that the Pentagon was releasing for the first time ever the size of the US nuclear arsenal - 5,113 weapons (with thousands more awaiting dismantlement), down from a peak of 31,255 in 1967.
The object apparently was to encourage other nuclear weapon states to do the same. But then Clinton made clear that "the United States shall retain a nuclear deterrent for as long as nuclear weapons exist."
Iran also came in for criticism by the UN secretary-general, who left the podium before Ahmadinejad spoke although he conferred with him later in the day. Ban Ki-moon said Iran should accept a swap proposal by the IAEA to ship nuclear fuel abroad and get uranium for a medical research reactor.
Improvising from his prepared text, Ahmadinejad disputed Ban's claim and said, "I would like to announce once again that to us it is an accepted deal." Iran has accepted the swap deal at various times but then reneged or added conditions.
Amano, the director general of the IAEA asked Iran to "clarify activities with a possible military dimension" and said he was unable to confirm that ALL nuclear material was used for peaceful activities "because Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation"
He also said Syria had not resolved questions related to the Dair Alzour site destroyed by Israel as well as other locations.
The 40-year old treaty divides the world into haves and have nots. The five established nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China - are allowed to have the bomb but must work towards disarmament while the rest of the world is allowed to have access to civilian nuclear reactors.
But the treaty does not deal with enriching uranium for reactor fuel and then reprocessing it for plutonium, which can be used in a bomb. The Obama administration and several Europeans hope they can convince nations to buy fuel from international suppliers, thereby reducing chances of proliferation.
Austria questions world drive for reactors
Amano noted than more than 60 countries are considering nuclear reactors and that 10 to 25 new countries would probably have their first atomic power plants by 2030. Austria's Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, was one the few to question demands for nuclear energy, citing environmental and health risks and fuel technologies that could trigger proliferation.
Clinton also urged the conference to adopt automatic penalties against violators, saying that the international community's track record of enforcing compliance was "unacceptable. " Among them should be a suspension of all international cooperation or IAEA technical cooperation projects as well as tightening controls on shipments and restrictions on transfers of sensitive technology.
It may be a good idea that won't happen, this year at least.
Indonesia also announced it would seek to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). It previously said it would do so after the United States had ratified it. Clinton said the Obama administration was committed to ratify the CTBC but approval from the Senate is still doubtful. but it has not put it forward for consideration by the U.S. Senate because of concerns that it will be voted down. The treaty needs 8 more ratifications of the 44 required to enter into force.
Dr. Rebecca Johnson of the London-based Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a long-time NPT observer, found the European Union stooped to the lowest-common denominator:
"The European Union contribution, read by Baroness Catherine Ashton, was a disappointing collection of mantras with nothing new on the table - not surprising, perhaps, since France is desperate to prevent further pressure for nuclear disarmament and Britain is in the throes of a close election"
But as was the case 10 and five years ago, Israel's nuclear capability was a key subject among the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), represented by Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty N. Natalegawa.
He said it was unacceptable that nations, particularly in the Middle East, remained outside the treaty, imperiling "regional and international peace and security.' He added: " We must prevail on the state of Israel to come into the NPT fold."
While he said all weapons states outside the NPT were a danger to world disarmament, the Indonesian minister did not mention Pakistan and India by name, both key members of the NAM.
Turning to the acknowledged nuclear weapon states Natalegawa asked why anyone needed nuclear weapons forever and ever. "It is time the lure of nuclear weapons is ended," he said.
Which is the point, according to Ban Ki-moon.
Henrik Salander, a veteran Swedish arms control expert, in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, said arguments that the toothpaste could not be put back in the tube were false. "Biological weapons and chemical weapons also cannot be uninvented but they are now forbidden."