In a joint editorial to be published tomorrow by Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr-Store warned that North Korea's atomic test proved it was time to upgrade the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The editorial calls on ''the nuclear weapons states, particularly Russia and the United States, to fulfill their responsibility and declare they are ready to engage in further negotiations about their strategic nuclear weapons''.
The editorial appears the same week the Democrats wrested control of the US Congress from President George W Bush's Republicans in mid-term elections, which many in Europe see as a rejection of Bush's unilateralism.
The two European ministers said Russian-US negotiations should focus on both the 1968 NPT and a possible follow-up pact for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start I), which was signed in 1991 and expires in 2009, the editorial said.
The NPT, which came into force in 1970, calls on the five official nuclear weapons states, the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, to negotiate nuclear disarmament.
''This duty is unambiguous,'' Steinmeier and Gahr-Store wrote.
In addition to North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003, Pakistan and India are nuclear powers which have never signed the NPT. Israel, which neither confirms nor denies having an atomic arsenal, has also not signed.
FAILED ATTEMPT TO REPAIR NPT Steinmeier and Gahr-Store said the nuclear weapons states' refusal to demonstrate their commitment to disarmament was one of the reasons an NPT review conference in 2005 collapsed.
But it's time to try again, they said.
''The international community must decide whether the North Korean nuclear test will lead to another, possibly fatal step towards destruction of the NPT or whether a clear signal will be given that the international community has reached a credible and sustainable consensus on non-proliferation,'' they wrote.
Bush administration officials have repeatedly said the US military was considering developing a new generation of small but powerful nuclear weapons, so-called ''mini nukes''. Russia has also talked about upgrading its nuclear arsenal.
Mr Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize-winning head of the UN's Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, and many non-proliferation experts have criticised Washington and Russia for their nuclear policies, which they say send the wrong message to countries which might be interested in secretly acquiring atomic weapons.
Reuters SB GC2245