Washington and other capitals are casting a critical eye on what could be a last-ditch bid to save a U.N. disarmament forum from paralysis.
A leader of the Conference on Disarmament has urged negotiators to reshuffle how they seek consensus among the body's 65 member nations. However, the push prompted questions on Tuesday from both sides of a deadlock that has prevented the body from pursuing a formal agenda since 1996.
The forum's acting secretary general urged participants to adopt a broad focus, by deciding first on "areas of common ground" they could refer to an informal working group for further discussion. Using that guidance, the working body could hammer out broad outlines for potential disarmament deals in so-called "framework conventions," Michael MÃ¸ller said in a May 20 presentation of his four-pronged strategy for advancing disarmament talks.
Building off of broad outlines "is not a new idea" in diplomacy, the Danish diplomat said. He noted that governments have steadily expanded a conventional-arms treaty since the 1980s to include new categories of weapons.
The United States, though, on Tuesday joined several other nations in asking MÃ¸ller to flesh out his own proposal.
"Our preliminary reaction is that it is not evident to us that this approach would help to break the CD's current impasse," Christopher Buck, Washington's delegate to the forum, said in prepared remarks.
Similar concerns were raised by Pakistan, according to a report by the nuclear-disarmament advocacy group Reaching Critical Will. Islamabad for years has acted alone in blocking agreement on a conference agenda, citing objections to formally discussing a potential ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
MÃ¸ller's other recommendations included a call for the forum to consider possible foundations for pursuing "voluntary" arms-control agreements.
"To make a difference, the CD does not have to aim at negotiating legally binding instruments only," he said in his May remarks.
Before entering its current stalemate, the multilateral disarmament body produced treaties that included bans on chemical arms and nuclear test detonations.