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Nobel peace prize goes to anti-nuclear campaign in rebuke to armed nations.

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Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and Daniel Hogsta, coordinator, celebrate after winning the Nobel Peace Prize 2017, in Geneva, Switzerland October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

An influential anti-nuclear campaign group has won the 2017 Nobel peace prize, in a decision that underlines the mounting danger of nuclear conflict amid simmering tensions between the US and North Korea and the increasing vulnerability of the Iran nuclear deal.

The chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Berit Reiss-Andersen, said the award to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) had been made in recognition of the group’s work “to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

The committee’s choice amounts to a reprimand to the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers, all of whom boycotted negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons – approved at the United Nations in July – and who described the treaty as dangerous.

The treaty was endorsed by 122 countries at the UN headquarters in New York after months of talks. None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons – the US, Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – took part. The treaty will only be enforced when 50 countries have signed and ratified it, a process that could take months or years.

The committee said its decision came at time when “the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time”.

It said some states were modernising their nuclear arsenals, and there was “a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea. Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth.”

Ican had “helped to fill this legal gap”, the committee said, describing it as “a driving force in prevailing upon the world’s nations to pledge to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons”.

The committee said it wanted to “emphasise that the next steps must involve the nuclear-armed states. This year’s peace prize is therefore also a call upon these states to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world.”

Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of Ican, said in her initial reaction that the group had received a phone call minutes before the official announcement and she had thought it was a prank. She said she did not believe it until she heard the name of the group during the announcement in Oslo.

Fihn said the award “sends a message to all nuclear-armed states and all states that continue to rely on nuclear weapons for security that it is unacceptable behaviour … We can’t threaten to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of security. That’s not how you build security.”

Ican said later in a statement: “This is a time of great global tension, when fiery rhetoric could all too easily lead us, inexorably, to unspeakable horror. The spectre of nuclear conflict looms large once more. If ever there were a moment for nations to declare their unequivocal opposition to nuclear weapons, that moment is now.”

The Nobel committee’s decision comes as the US president, Donald Trump, has threatened to decertify and unravel the Iran nuclear deal, which could trigger a second nuclear standoff in the midst of the North Korea crisis.

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Supporters of the Iran agreement, which settled a decade-long dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme and averted the risk of yet another war in the Middle East, have argued it is vital to preserve it at a time of growing tensions with North Korea, which has conducted its sixth nuclear test and a series of intermediate and intercontinental missile tests.

Trump has reportedly decided to decertify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal next week. On Thursday he told a meeting of US military leaders that Tehran was not living up to the “spirit of the agreement”, and cryptically added they were witnessing “the calm before the storm”.

The European Union, in contrast, has said it is doing everything it can to salvage the deal in the event of a US withdrawal. The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said last month after a meeting of foreign ministers in New York that Iran was abiding by the agreement and “there is no need to reopen the agreement because it’s fully delivering”.

In remarks that appeared to be aimed at Trump’s threats, she said: “The agreement is being implemented. It’s working. It’s delivering. It’s not for one party or the other to certify this. It’s for the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], with its technical independent role, to provide us reports and it’s for the entire joint commission to monitor the implementation of all this.”

Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Iran, said the Nobel award was “a challenge to the international community, led by the UN security council, to protect this historic non-proliferation agreement [the Iran deal], which is vital for regional peace, from its detractors.”

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), which closely monitors international arms sales, welcomed Ican’s win, saying that for the first time there was a real danger of a nuclear conflict.

“Almost 50 years ago, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty committed the nuclear weapon states to achieve nuclear disarmament. The effectiveness of the campaign by Ican is a sign of widespread impatience with what many see as the failure to do that,” said Dan Smith, Sipri’s director.

The increased nuclear risk was “exemplified by recent nuclear developments in North Korea and the increasing vulnerability” of the Iran nuclear deal, Smith said.

“The world has witnessed declining respect for the unique destructive capacity of nuclear weapons. At a time when the nuclear threat is increasing, Ican reminds us that it is important to imagine a world in which they do not exist,” he added.

Sophie Neuburg, the executive director of Medact, a UK charity that is affiliated to International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, urged the UK to sign the nuclear ban treaty in the wake of the Nobel peace prize announcement.

“Nuclear weapons are an unacceptable threat to human health and global security – they have no place in the modern world,” she said. “The UK government must show leadership and sign the nuclear ban treaty. It’s time to scrap Trident [Britain’s nuclear deterrent] and spend the money on our NHS.”

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