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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Administration Policies and Goals on Nonproliferation and Disarmament

FPC Briefing
Ellen Tauscher
Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Foreign Press Center
New York, NY
September 24, 2009


Date: 09/24/2009 Location: New York, NY Description: Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, brief about the Administration's Policies and Goals on Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the New York Foreign Press Center on September 24, 2009.  © State Dept Image

12:30 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for coming and thank you for waiting. I would like to thank the Foreign Press Center again for its hospitality today in letting us have the platform to talk a bit about the President’s participation and chairing of the UN Security Council session on nonproliferation and disarmament, and about the Administration’s overall policy on nonproliferation and disarmament.

We have with us today Ellen Tauscher, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security at the State Department, and Ambassador Alex Wolff, the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative at the U.S. Mission to the UN. And I’d like to turn things over to them. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Good afternoon. I think you saw history be made in a number of different ways today. The first was with President Obama, as president of the Security Council, bringing forward a unanimous resolution that speaks to the President’s agenda that he laid out in the Prague speech and in the Cairo speech, about nuclear disarmament, about his commitment to ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, about bringing forward a fissile material cutoff treaty, about working cooperatively with states to eliminate nuclear material within the next four years.

The second historic opportunity was Secretary Clinton spoke today at the Article 14 Conference after 10 years of having no United States representation. Secretary Clinton was greeted warmly not only by those attending from the CTBO countries, but also from a number of American and international NGO groups from the arms control and disarmament community.

We think this has been a very, very good day for the President’s agenda on nonproliferation, and we look forward to answer your questions. I want to introduce Ambassador Wolff.

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: Thank you. I don’t have much to add other than to reinforce the point of the historic nature of today’s events. The unanimity with which the Council spoke and enacted, all Council members co-sponsored this resolution, a resolution that would have been very difficult to imagine a short time ago. It does a lot to promote the agendas that the United States holds deeply, which is disarmament, nonproliferation, peaceful use of nuclear energy in a manner that’s responsible. It highlights a number of items that follow on from the President’s own Prague speech outlining U.S. priorities on these issues, and looking ahead to the President’s chairing of the nuclear security summit next year and the very important NPT review conference next year.

So for all those reasons, I think a very important milestone in a direction that you saw is shared by a number of governments.

Thank you. Happy to take any questions.

MODERATOR: And as we take questions, if you could all identify yourselves and your (inaudible) if you could, and we’ll start with --

QUESTION: Yeah, Arshad Mohammed. I cover the State Department for Reuters. To focus on a particular nonproliferation issue, in yesterday’s public comments by President Medvedev after the bilateral, it seemed as if he is more open to the possibility of additional sanctions against Iran. There’s definitely a change in the language or the tone. Do you have any sense that the Russians are – that their position has shifted and that they are, in fact, truly more open to more rigorous sanctions against Iran if the diplomatic path does not bear fruit on October 1, or soon thereafter?

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Well, we welcomed President’s Medvedev’s comments. As you know, the President has been very clear about – that the United States will not tolerate a nuclear-weaponed Iran. We have been working extensively with our EU and P-5 counterparts since the invitation in April was extended to the Iranian Government. I think that what is clear is that the momentum for international agreement on how to move forward on Iran is coming forward. We look forward to working with, as I said, my – our EU and P-5 counterparts.

But I think what President Medvedev said yesterday is important because I think it is the sentiment of many countries who are deeply concerned that the Iranians have not taken up the offer in a way that includes conversations about their nuclear program.

QUESTION: This is a follow-up, if I might.

MODERATOR: Wait for the mike, please.

QUESTION: Charlie Wolfson from CBS at the State Department. Just as a follow-up, and the same thing that Arshad asked – I mean, is Russia – is this correct that Russia has signaled they are behind more vigorous sanctions? Do you expect that to follow through? We’ve heard – we’ve all followed the Russians and Chinese for years and how they deal with sanctions. But is this a new day?

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Well, I think it certainly is in the sense that President Medvedev, for the first time, has clearly stated his belief that this – that the Iranian position is something that cannot be allowed to continue, and that there is unanimity – moving toward unanimity towards sanctions. But, I mean, we take it that – we take it as good news.

But once again, there is a meeting coming up next week. We have to see exactly what does that mean. We found it to be a good comment. We hope that it proves to be what we want it to be, which is, as Secretary Clinton said, if the Iranians do not begin to cooperate on these issues, crippling sanctions will follow. And so we’re looking for our P-5 and our EU counterparts to work with us on that agenda. But as you know, there’s a meeting next week.

Yes.

QUESTION: I’m Lachlan Carmichael from AFP. What about China? We haven’t heard much about its position. And to this resolution today, how does it create that broader momentum to stop both Iran’s nuclear ambitions and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions? What kind of immediate effect do you expect to have on your partners in these two processes and others?

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: Well, I think it’s very important to note that this resolution was negotiated with full participation by the Chinese mission. Their government fully backs it. They signed on to it. They’ve adopted it. Their president raised his hand today, and you all saw that. There’s no greater sense of political commitment than that gesture itself.

So we expect that this is, again, a signal of unanimity and consensus in how the Council views these issues and the importance it attaches to progress in all the areas covered in the resolution. In that regard, we’re hopeful and expect that we’ll have this cooperation proceed in other areas with the Chinese, and others will sign on to the resolution and the undertakings in – described therein.

QUESTION: But for Iran so far, you haven’t seen much change in their position?

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: Well, we’ve not been dealing on the issue of Iran here in New York yet. The – as you know, just to add to this point, both the Chinese and the Russians have signed on to, in previous resolutions, including ministerial statements, the notion of a dual-track policy. They’re committed to that. It’s incorporated in previous resolutions.

And that means, on the one hand, trying to resolve this through incentives and cooperation and dialogue; and on the other hand, maintaining pressure and may – taking actions that ensure that the security that we’re all trying to ensure is maintained both in each regional context and overall under the framework that this resolution covers.

QUESTION: You said not yet in New York?

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: No, we’re not negotiating yet on any new step in New York; that is, in terms of the UN. Obviously, we’ve had meetings in New York on it, but this is still being handled essentially among capitals and on the – in --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) bilateral meetings with the Chinese (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: No, we’ve – well, not that I can speak of here anyway.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on China? Just to – I mean, aside from the fact that they have indeed signed on to all the resolutions and all the previous statements, I’m sure you saw the report in the Financial Times, and it’s appeared elsewhere earlier this week, saying that Chinese state-owned companies have significantly increased their exports of gasoline to Iran.

Under Secretary Tauscher specifically talked about crippling sanctions. When the Secretary first used that term, I think everybody understood it to be talking about refined petroleum product imports into Iran. And if the Chinese – if Chinese state-owned entities are selling more gas to Iran, it would seem like, in a very practical manner, they are directly undermining any possibility of cracking down on refined petroleum product imports for Iran. Would you not agree?

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Well, I’m not going to talk about what the Chinese are doing right now with Iran, because we are in the midst of conversations that not only include a future engagement with Iran, but conversations among ourselves.

And I think that so far, we have had very, very positive agreement among the parties, both the P-5 and the EU counterparts, that we are moving forward with – on this two-track policy. One is to engage with Iran and see what that looks like when it happens, and also to be prepared, should that not come to the fruition that we hope, which is that Iran changes its mind on its nuclear weapon ambitions. If that does not happen, what we’re going to do, and how we do it in a way that is – keeps us together.

So I’m not going to talk about what the Chinese are doing or what somebody else is doing. I think that there are a lot of very positive steps, including President Medvedev’s statement yesterday, and that’s where we are.

QUESTION: Did you ask (inaudible) the Chinese to (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: No.

QUESTION: You did not?

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: I have not, but Secretary Burns is the one that is talking to the Chinese about Iran.

QUESTION: Do you know if he has asked them?

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: I don’t know.

MODERATOR: Why don’t we go over here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, I’m Janine Zacharia. I cover the State Department for Bloomberg News. I have two questions. One is about the clause in the resolution today about withdrawing from the NPT and trying to win assurances that people would return the nuclear material obtained during their membership. Are you – is that clause in there because you are concerned that Iran will withdraw from the NPT? And how do you expect Russia and others to actually get the material back?

And for Under Secretary Tauscher, could you talk a little bit about any follow-up conversations you’ve had here in New York on missile defense and how that’s playing in – you know, with the Russians in particular?

Thanks.

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: Thank you. Thank you for pointing those out. Those are two very important provisions in the resolution. And of course, they’re designed to reinforce and buttress the NPT regime, particularly as we’re headed into the NPT review conference negotiations. The NPT review in Article 10 does have a provision that any country that opts to withdraw from the treaty must not only notify the NPT parties, the other NPT parties, but also the Security Council. And what this resolution says is that type of act is of such an order of magnitude of significance and potential danger that the Council will deal with it immediately, and that it will be viewed in terms of the Council’s own mandate for dealing with threats to international peace and security.

And in terms of the provisions of return of nuclear material, it’s been exported to a country that withdraws or pulls out of any safeguards agreement. I think also, very important as a signal on the importance we as suppliers attach to adherence to international norms and the provisions of the treaty, and the fact that the benefits that accrue from being an NPT participant don’t accrue if you’re not, and if you withdraw.

So again, this is an important signal. It should be, I hope, a deterrent to countries that might in the future consider withdrawing. And of course, a reminder to countries that are providing nuclear assistance that they have responsibilities and obligations as well in terms of buttressing the nonproliferation regime and exporting in a responsible way to countries that are members of the NPT.

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: On missile defense last week, the President received the Ballistic Missile Defense Review portion that included the European Defense of Europe and our forward-deployed troops and allies. And he announced a policy last week that is a very, very strong national security policy. It is very strong on the defense of Europe, because it will defend all of Europe, all of NATO allies.

And protecting the indivisibility of NATO is very important to the United States – not only because of our Article 5 commitments, because we believe that it is the strongest defense alliance – it is – it changes the architecture. It changes the architecture in a way that is able to put against current threats, proven technology now, as opposed to in the future. And it builds on a very, very successful record of the SM-3, Block 1-A Aegis ship, now land-based system, and it does it in a very cooperative way.

The Russians were not consulted in any way. They heard about it after we made the announcement. I’ve talked to my counterpart. Ambassador Kislyak in Washington was talked – gave in a briefing Friday. And our intention is to – there are a number of us going to Moscow in October with the Secretary. We will then have much more serious engagement at that time. But they’re very interested, obviously, in what we’re doing.

Nothing that we did had anything to do with Russian saber-rattling or their consternation about the ground-based interceptors or the Czech radar. But we were not confused that there was an ancillary benefit to the change of the architecture. And this is really about the fact that we – the President decided to have a stronger national security missile defense program and to have it sooner. And that’s what we did.

QUESTION: Can you just flesh out what that is (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Well, considering the fact that the Russians were very, very boisterous about their opposition to the ground-based interceptors in the radar, it was obvious, because we do political analysis at the same time we do other things, that they’re – that they would – that they didn’t want those ground-based interceptors to be there. What was important was that it was never a consideration in the decision that the President made, nor was it a consideration in any of the conversations that we had.

But it clearly was obvious that they were opposed to the ground-based interceptors. They don’t know enough about the new system right now, I think, to comment about it. But at the same time, we have very strong relations with our Polish and Czech allies. We have a very strong commitment to Central Europe. This is a system that will protect NATO countries indivisibly and will do it sooner, and do it in a way that protects them against the current threat. That’s why the President thinks this is a better way to go and a better way to go forward, and that’s what the missile defense story is.

MODERATOR: Another question in the back.

QUESTION: Yes. Edward (inaudible) with The Observer in London. To what extent should we now view this progress in arms reduction and in nuclear nonproliferation as economic issues, rather than national security issues? It seems that the movement comes at a time that those – that the emphasis is changing somewhat.

UNDER SECRETARY TAUSCHER: Well, I will tell you that the Obama Administration does not consider economic issues when it’s about national security. We will do whatever we have to do to protect the American people, our forward-deployed troops, our allies and assets. So the economic issue of ground-based interceptors versus short-range interceptors or the size of the arsenal is, once again, a reality, but it is not a consideration. Nothing is done because of cost. Things are done to be as strong as we can to protect the American people.

QUESTION: Elise Labott with CNN. Sorry if you addressed this. I came in a little late. But how are you going to hold countries that don’t adhere to the – don’t comply with the resolution or don’t – or, like, kind drop out of the NPT or don’t fulfill their obligations? I mean, what are the mechanisms for holding countries accountable for these new measures?

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: Well, the first thing is to try to avoid those circumstances, and that’s what this resolution tries to do. I think it’s a clear signal, both of international unanimity on this issue in terms of how countries view the NPT, the importance of its universality, getting everyone to sign on to it, the importance of adhering to its terms, not withdrawing from it, and complying with all the obligations that flowed from it. So we do have a couple of examples. You heard about them today in the Council, and you’ve heard about them yesterday as well. You know which ones they are.

Well, we do have regimes, countries that are veering away or in violation of terms of their obligations. And in each of those cases, certainly in the case of Iran, certainly in the case of North Korea, we have individual regimes in place tailored to the circumstances in – we’re dealing within those countries that provide a combination of incentive for cooperation and sanctions for noncompliance. These are evolving issues. There’s no easy answer to these. And of course, anything that emerges from the Council obviously has to emerge with support from the majority of the Council.

But what you heard the President say and others say around the table today – there have to be consequences for noncompliance, and that’s clear. And the best way to start, and I think this resolution is a good reminder, is that the international community as a whole views this issue from the same perspective, and that there is support for taking actions when countries deviate.

QUESTION: If I could just --

MODERATOR: This is going to be our last question.

QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up very briefly? But are we talking about just traditional – sorry, are we just talking about kind of the traditional instruments of getting countries to comply, like sanctions or things, but – or do you see, like, a more robust role for IAEA inspectors? I mean –

AMBASSADOR WOLFF: I think it’s a combination of both. You have – I’m glad you mentioned the IAEA. The IAEA figures prominently in this resolution as well. It is also one of the key instruments we have in the international nonproliferation regime to deal with those issues, and one that also helps countries that want to pursue peaceful uses of nuclear energy in a responsible way and how to – they can assist them. It’s also the agency that’s supposed to monitor and ensure that people are abiding by their obligations and not slipping into proliferation-related activities.

So support for the IAEA – you heard Director General ElBaradei today. It’s no coincidence he was invited to address this Council meeting. So support for the IAEA, support for the NPTs, support for all of the other treaty instruments that exist is something that we wanted to reinforce and again establish the framework and foundation for compliance by all.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

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