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After six years of deadlock on reaching an agenda, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today appealed to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, the world's sole multilateral forum for such talks, to move forward and start work on substantive issues that are vital for peace and social and economic development.

"Disarmament is critical for conflict prevention, peace-building and the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (<"">MDGs)," he told this year's opening session in Geneva in a message delivered by Conference Secretary-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze.

The MDGs, adopted by the <"">UN Millennium Summit of 2000, aim to reverse the course of impoverishment in the developing world by investment and other assistance from developed States that will help halve extreme poverty and hunger, slash infant and maternal mortality and dramatically increase access to health care and education by 2015.

Mr. Annan noted that the current session opens with renewed hopes of overcoming the impasse since the 65-member Conference had "engaged itself, albeit informally, in a substantive discussion of issues on its agenda."

But in 2004, it was not able to reach formal agreement on a programme of work - the sixth consecutive year it was unable to do so - and thus could not start work on substantive issues. While there was agreement on most of the elements of a programme, the main differences remained on the matters of prevention of an arms race in outer space and nuclear disarmament.

Mr. Annan said he was encouraged by the strong political support given to the <"">Conference by foreign ministers who addressed last year's session.

"With so much at stake, I urge you to do your utmost to enable this forum for arms control and disarmament negotiations to play its envisaged role, and to place its accumulated knowledge and experience fully at the service of the world's people," he declared.

The provisional agenda for 2005 includes cessation of the nuclear arms race and nuclear disarmament; prevention of nuclear war, including all related matters; prevention of an arms race in outer space; and effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Other items are new types of weapons of mass destruction and new systems of such weapons (radiological weapons); a comprehensive programme of disarmament; and transparency in armaments.

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