Federal Politics

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New ban on nukes of little value, says Bishop

Australia sees little merit in a campaign by some nations to declare a new global ban on nuclear weapons while North Korea steadfastly refuses to surrender its atomic bomb.

North Korea has in the past weeks flagged it will detonate another nuclear explosion - of what Pyongyang promises is a new kind of weapon - fuelling tensions in Asia.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in Hiroshima for a 12-nation summit that Japan hopes will kick-start disarmament negotiations, said Australia was "pragmatic" about the goal of abolishing the world's nuclear arsenal.

"The goal is achievable, it will just take a long time," Ms Bishop told Fairfax Media on Friday ahead of the talks.

Anti-nuclear campaigners and some countries are pushing for a new treaty banning nuclear weapons, and see the talks in Hiroshima - the first city attacked with an atomic bomb - as a potential boost to their campaign. But Australia has not supported the drive.

Ms Bishop said a ban on nuclear weapons was emotionally appealing and sounded simple enough, yet while countries such as North Korea remained intent on increasing their nuclear arsenal, a deterrent was needed.


"If every other nation on earth is required to give up its nuclear weapons, will we be a safer place with only North Korea holding its nuclear weapons? The answer to that is surely no," she said.

North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests since 2006, and in the past fortnight fired a battery of missiles into nearby ocean waters.

The nuclear disarmament movement also fears Russia's military take over in Crimea could set back the goal of abolishing the bomb - given Ukraine surrendered its atomic arsenal in 1992 in exchange for a security guarantee from Russia.

But Ms Bishop said it appeared the deal between Russia and the US to reduce their nuclear stockpiles had been kept separate from the Crimea issue.

She said Hiroshima had profound symbolism in the goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons and that disarmament and non-proliferation was a constant priority.

Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is from Hiroshima and said he hoped the cabinet ministers attending the talks could see first hand what the city went through.

The humanitarian cost of nuclear weapons is a theme of the talks - with participants taken to the Hiroshima peace museum with its vivid displays of people's skin being burnt from their bodies in the atomic blast.

But Mr Kishida also acknowledged the difficulty over overcoming suspicions about other country's intentions. "The path before us may be a long one," he said.

Ms Bishop will also met Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty Natelegawa, who is observing the talks.

The two also spoke at another recent nuclear summit in The Hague and will met again next week in Mexico as ties are mended after revelations last year of Australian espionage in Indonesia.

Ms Bishop is also soon expecting to travel to Jakarta but said not to read anything into the trip about the timing for the release of a code of conduct between the countries - under negotiation since December.

"It's just we are continuing to work closely together. Of course, Indonesia has been occupied with domestic elections in recent times and its understandable their focus has been somewhat domestic," she said.

Australia has pledged to respect Indonesia's sovereignty - a point again made in January after several embarrassing incursions into Indonesian territory by Australian navy ships - and not use secret intelligence to harm Indonesia.

"Those are all things that have been said, it's just a question of reducing it to writing," Ms Bishop said.

Daniel Flitton travelled to Japan courtesy of the Japanese government.