France, scolded globally for its nuclear tests, joined the United States and Britain on Friday to announce a treaty banning blasts in the South Pacific - but only after France finishes testing there next year.
The three countries released a joint statement at the United Nations and at home saying they would sign the treaty “during the first half of 1996.” France’s current series of underground nuclear tests in French Polynesia is due to end by May.
The agreement establishing the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone, known as the Rarotonga Treaty, was negotiated by the countries of the 15-member South Pacific Forum in 1985. France’s only active nuclear test sites, Mururoa and Fangataufa atolls, are both in the South Pacific.
Of the five declared nuclear powers, only Russia and China have so far signed the accord, though the United States had already said it would do so even before Friday’s announcement.
The accord bans nuclear arms stockpiles and nuclear testing in the region but would still allow nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships to travel through the area.
The timing of the announcement - just days before the three countries’ leaders meet in New York to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations - seemed aimed at defusing criticism of their stance on nuclear testing.
France has been roundly condemned by governments and environmental groups worldwide for resuming nuclear tests, but the United States and Britain have been muted in their criticism.
The environmental group Greenpeace, which has led worldwide demonstrations against the French tests, called the announcement “historic but cynical.”
“It is a gesture in the right direction, but it is an empty one since it ignores the nuclear testing being carried out in the region now,” Greenpeace spokesman Damon Moglen said in a telephone interview.