UNITED NATIONS, May 6 (IPS) – The issue of nuclear disarmament being discussed with new vigour in the halls of the U.N. as the third and final preparatory committee leading up to the 2010 review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) meets over the next two weeks.

Mayors for Peace, an international network of local officials, held an event Tuesday as part of the NPT preparatory sessions to promote its 2020 Vision Campaign calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons by the year 2020.

They are just one voice of many calling for concrete, time-based disarmament, but they hold the unique position of representing the world’s cities – the potential targets of nuclear attacks.

The Mayors for Peace gathering is one of many side events and comes at a time when there is growing talk of abolition of nuclear arsenals, a goal long viewed by many policy-makers as admirable but unrealistic.

Speaking to the gathered mayors and diplomats via a video message, Hans Blix, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and of the commission that searched for WMDs in Iraq in 2002, said, ‘It is a very timely moment that you are meeting.’

He described the disarmament process as coming out of ‘a period of sleep-walking or, even worse, sliding backwards.’

‘There was a moment that was missed in the 1990s,’ he continued, ‘and now we have a new opportunity.’

This idea that the time is ripe for a stronger move toward disarmament was a theme in almost all the speeches. The election of U.S. President Barack Obama and, especially, his speech in Prague last month calling for ‘a world without nuclear weapons’, seem to be the main reasons behind this renewed optimism.

Yano Miyako, a survivor of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima, summed up this sentiment: ‘Before we could not expect much, but now, yes, we can – because of President Obama’s speech.’

‘I believe that our majority voice has reached President Obama,’ said Tadatoshi Akiba, mayor of Hiroshima and president of Mayors for Peace.

On May 1, 53 new cities joined Mayors for Peace. It now has 2,870 member cities from 134 countries and regions.

The main work of the 2020 Vision Campaign entails collecting the signatures of local officials on the ‘Cities Appeal in support of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Protocol’. This protocol would be complementary to the NPT and would solidify national commitments to the ‘good faith’ move toward disarmament required by Article VI of the treaty, which says ‘each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith’ on measures relating to disarmament.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, spoke about the legal implications of this phrase.

‘‘Good faith’ means parties are under an obligation to conduct themselves so that negotiations are meaningful. It is critical to the disarmament process,’ he said.

Akiba echoed this, saying ‘‘in good faith’ is not only a legal term but a moral imperative.’

Change has not yet definitively come to disarmament, though. ‘Now we’re seeing some movements on U.S.-Russia relations, on fissile materials, but not as yet on global reduction of nuclear weapons,’ said Burroughs.

There are over 26,000 nuclear warheads in the world today, 95 percent of them in the U.S. and Russia. As long as these weapons exist, Mayors for Peace argues, they might be used, and the only way to prevent this is to abolish them.

If these weapons were used, said Sergio Duarte, the U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, ‘They would most likely be used in cities.’ Local officials would thus be the main ones responsible for providing emergency and medical services.

The role of local officials in the geopolitical arena of disarmament might be called into question, but, as Blix said in his video message, ‘more than half the world’s people live in cities.’

Mayor Donald Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio, mentioned how U.S. mayors had to play a central role in coordinating responses following the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks and have taken action at the local level to address climate change when ratification of the Kyoto Protocol faltered at the national level in the U.S.

‘Mayors have to justify just travelling to conferences like this when there are so many pressing issues at home, but I really think this is a pressing issue of the day,’ he said.

Akiba summed up the rationale for the role of cities: ‘It is the cities that suffer the result of nuclear catastrophes.’

Cities also have a key role in providing their citizens opportunities to express their support for disarmament. Akiba mentioned a specific baseball game in Hiroshima dedicated to Mayors for Peace in which all the fans held up signs in support of their disarmament campaign.

However, Duarte cautioned, ‘The most important single factor that will influence this outcome is, as always, the political will of nation-states.’

This August will mark 64 years since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the effects are still being felt. Yuki, the 12-year-old granddaughter of a bombing survivor, spoke to the gathering: ‘When I was eight I was attacked by a strange stomachache, and was in the hospital for two weeks.’

Her grandmother then said, ‘Rather than waiting for other countries to give up their nuclear weapons before we give up ours, we must have the courage to take action. What I want people to understand is that what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not in the past but an opportunity for the future.’

The NPT requires a review conference every five years to evaluate the implementation of the treaty’s articles. The final count of the Cities Appeal signatures will take place next year at the 2010 NPT Review Conference at U.N. headquarters in New York.