The world's five nuclear powers have pledged not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against five Central Asian nations that have banned such weapons.
The United States, Russia, China, Britain and France signed a protocol to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in Central Asia at a UN ceremony on Tuesday. It assures the five countries that nuclear weapons will not be used against them.
The five countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - expressed hope that the protocol would be fully ratified by the five nuclear-weapon states so it could take effect before next year's review of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty aimed at stopping the spread of nuclear arms.
Kazakhstan's UN ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, speaking on behalf of the five countries, called the signing an "historic event" that would provide Central Asian states with "security assurances against the use, or the threat of use, of nuclear weapons".
He said that the treaty establishing the nuclear-weapons-free-zone, which came into force in 2009, was the result of the five nations' efforts "to provide security, stability and peace in the region with a view to create the necessary conditions for the development and prosperity of their peoples".
T homas Countryman, the US assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, said Tuesday's signing was a "significant step to advance nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament". He said the signing by the five nuclear powers signified their support for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and their readiness to offer "firm assurances" against the threat or use of nuclear weapons to states that were part of nuclear-weapons-free-zones.
Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the signing "a huge step towards finalising the international legal status of the zone" in Central Asia.
"It is remarkable that the protocol to the treaty has been signed today by all nuclear-weapon states simultaneously," Churkin said. "This is the first such example in the world."
There are four other treaties on nuclear-weapons-free zones - in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa. Mongolia's self-declared nuclear-free status has also been recognised through a United Nations General Assembly resolution.