Chief Sherpa awaiting nuclear summit with 'pride'

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World leaders will debate on nuclear security matters during the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague, but the main work has already been done by the so-called Sherpas, led by chief negotiator Piet de Klerk.

The name Sherpa is originally derived from the Sherpa people, a Nepalese ethnic group, who served as guides and porters in the Himalayas. Nowadays the term is also used to name policy experts who prepare an international summit, like the G8, and advise their attending leaders. The NSS also used the word Sherpa for the negotiators of the summit and 63-year-old Dutchman Piet de Klerk who was named the host country's lead coordinator and negotiator.

De Klerk held numerous positions dealing with nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. He worked as desk officer in the Disarmament & Peace Affairs Section at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1980-1987), as deputy resident representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and deputy permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna (1987-1991).

After that he became head of the Arms Control Bureau in the International Security Affairs Department in The Hague (1991-1996), counselor at the Netherlands embassy in Bonn (1996-1998) and director of the office of external relations and policy coordination at the IAEA in Vienna (1998-2003). From 2003 till 2007, he was roving ambassador for human rights at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and between 2011 and 2012, he was chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. From 2011 to 2013, he was the Dutch ambassador to Jordan.

De Klerk took the position of chief negotiator of the NSS in mid-2012.

"I was asked for the job, which made me feel honored. Of course I said yes", De Klerk told Xinhua. "It is an honorary job, but I am still employee of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They pay my salary."

"The first part of my task I did part-time, because I was still in Jordan," De Klerk added. "Since last summer the job is full-time. Together with six other employees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we are constantly working on this project."

De Klerk and his fellow Sherpas and sous-Sherpas started their work after the closure of the NSS 2012 in Seoul. They had general meetings in Istanbul, The Hague, Vienna , Ottawa and in Pattaya to discuss the progress made, key themes, work plans, measures and first drafts of the final declaration.

Ultimately, these negotiations led to consensus on certain aspects of global nuclear security, which should be adopted by the world leaders at the summit and published in the The Hague Communique.

"In the past 18 months we have met on several occasions in various parts of the world," De Klerk added. "In the first year we focused on exploring certain themes in greater detail. This is one significant way to exercise some influence. Since last summer a few of our meetings have considered the final communique. At the last meeting, in Thailand, we cleared several final hurdles."

"It's a painstaking process," said De Klerk. "Nuclear security is a sensitive issue, but we can't allow the process to stagnate. That's why The Netherlands is trying to raise the bar. We are in a good position to do that: we are a small, but technologically advanced country at the forefront of research and diplomacy."

"It does not happen every day that you can negotiate while all political leaders in the world are looking over your shoulder," De Klerk stated. "This is a unique opportunity. I believe we can look forward to the summit with confidence. I will await the final communique with definitely a certain amount of pride. After the Summit? We will have to arrange the settlement of the summit, but after a few months everyone will be gone. Enough challenges remaining."

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