With heightened concerns about nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, more than 40 countries joined forces on Thursday to press the US and others to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty so it can finally take effect.
They also called on all countries to continue a moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions, although it cautioned that would not have the same "permanent and legally binding effect" as the treaty.
The declaration came as Japan said it had intelligence indicating that North Korea might be preparing to test-fire a short-range missile that could reach most of the main Japanese islands.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who launched the initiative with Japan, Australia and the European Union, said there was a strong feeling in the world that the danger from nuclear weapons and their proliferation has not been adequately met.
"One of the most common and scary alternatives has been the threats of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, falling into the hands of terrorists," he told reporters.
The US has observed a nuclear testing moratorium since 1992 but has not ratified the treaty, saying it needs to have periodic tests to maintain its arsenal and the pact would do nothing to curb the nuclear ambitions of rogue nations.
A US official in Washington, speaking on condition of anony-mity, said the Bush administration has not changed its position and remains opposed to the pact.
The treaty, which outlaws all nuclear weapons test explosions, has been signed by 172 countries and ratified by 115. It was drafted at an international conference in Geneva and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1996.
Foreign ministers from 42 countries, including Russia, Britain and South Korea, issued the statement on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly's high-level debate, saying the treaty has "achieved near-universal adherence."
The treaty needs to be ratified by 44 specific countries, including the US and China, and has only gained 32 of those to date.
The Finnish foreign minister said the treaty organization would continue to work with the US, China and other countries whose specific approval is needed.
"The entry into force of the treaty ... is more urgent today than ever before," the foreign ministers added, promising to work to raise political momentum in its favor.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi noted that her country was "the only nation that suffered from the devastation of atomic bombs."
Kawaguchi also said her country was monitoring the reports about North Korea's preparations for testing a short-range missile.
"This firing is not really imminent yet, so we keep watching the situation," she said.