WASHINGTON -- The United States, Russia and 10 other nations today signed an historic treaty to keep the vast frozen Antarctic continent free of military bases and open to peaceful scientific exploration.
The 14-article treaty, drafted in different languages, was the product of seven weeks of negotiations. It represented the first time Russia has joined in such a pact with the United States and other Western countries since the outbreak of Cold War hostilities.
The document bans all weapons testing and nuclear explosions on the South Pole icecap an area of five million square miles which is equal to the size of the United States and Europe combined.
The treaty automatically makes all member countries of the United Nations eligible to join, but non-members of the U.N. such as Communist China, could join only by unanimous consent of the 12 original signator countries.
The treaty nations also include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The document was drafted in English, French, Russian and Spanish.
The treaty provides for a unique inspection system under which any member nation may send observers to "all of Antarctica" at any time to view the "discharging or embarking of cargoes or personnel" of any other member country.
Scientific teams will be permitted to explore and study any area of the vast, largely uncharted continent. The document also seeks to preserve the co-operative spirit of the International Geophysical Year explorations by requiring that "scientific observations and results from Antarctica shall be exchanged and made freely available."