UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The head of the body that oversees a treaty to ban nuclear testing worldwide said on Friday he hopes signatories will soon find a way to end a two-decade stalemate that has prevented the pact from entering into force.
More than 160 countries have ratified the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). But since 1996, India, Pakistan and North Korea have all conducted nuclear tests, and are among eight countries including the United States, China and Iran blocking its entry into force.
Lassina Zerbo, head of the Vienna-based CTBT Organization, said it was up to signatory states to make changes to the treaty's rules. But he suggested that one possibility members could consider was scrapping the unusual requirement for the eight holdout countries to ratify it.
The treaty says that if after three years the treaty has not come into force, states that ratified it should meet to explore ways to accelerate its "early entry into force."
"If we've been doing this for 19 years, and we haven't found a way to accelerate the entry into force, we should reflect on whether (that clause) achieves its goal or not," he told Reuters in an interview.
Signatories will meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 29 to discuss this issue.
Two diplomats from signatory countries said it was possible to change the rules so the treaty could enter into force without the remaining ratifications.
The United States, like Iran, has signed but not ratified the CTBT. The administration of President Barack Obama has made clear it would like it ratified, but a number of U.S. lawmakers, especially Republicans, oppose ratification of a pact they fear would limit U.S. security options.
On the question of Iran, Zerbo said Tehran could ratify the treaty to ease concerns about what it will do in 15 years, when limitations expire on its nuclear program under a deal struck in July with major powers.
"People say that after 15 years, how can we be sure that Iran will not start," Zerbo said. "The only assurance with teeth that Iran can give is to ratify the CTBT."
"If they ratify the CTBT, which fits with their fatwa not to develop a nuclear weapon, after 15 years they have helped the process to get the CTBT into force and then there's no room for developing nuclear weapons," he added.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Gregorio