Citing Russia's attacks on Ukraine and tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the Middle East, Guterres said he feared that crises "with nuclear undertones" could escalate.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres makes remarks before the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Aug 1, 2022.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres makes remarks before the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Aug 1, 2022. (AP)

UN head Antonio Guterres has warned that a misunderstanding could spark nuclear destruction as the United States, Britain and France urged Russia to stop "its dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behaviour."

At the opening of a key nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference in New York, Guterres warned that the world faced "a nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War."

Citing Russia's attacks on Ukraine and tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the Middle East, Guterres said he feared that crises "with nuclear undertones" could escalate.

"Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation," Guterres told the 10th review conference of the NPT, an international treaty that came into force in 1970 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

"We have been extraordinarily lucky so far. But luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict," he added, calling on nations to "put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons."

In January, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France — had pledged to prevent the further dissemination of nuclear weapons.

READ MORE: No one can win a nuclear war, should never be unleashed: Putin

'No winners'

The three also took aim at Russia, which announced it had placed its nuclear forces on alert shortly after its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, urging Moscow to respect its international commitments under the NPT.

"Following Russia's unprovoked and unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine, we call on Russia to cease its irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behaviour," they said.

President Vladimir Putin insisted that Russia remained faithful to the treaty's "letter and spirit" and that there could be "no winners" in a nuclear war, according to the Kremlin.

While many speeches focused on Russia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also denounced North Korea, which "continues to expand its unlawful nuclear program" and Iran, which "remains on a path of nuclear escalation."

"And so we come together at a critical moment," he said.

Earlier, in a statement, US President Joe Biden called on Russia and China to enter nuclear arms control talks.

READ MORE: Russia will supply Belarus nuclear-capable missiles within months: Putin

Source: AFP