printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Overview of the Obama Administration's Nonproliferation Agenda

FPC Briefing
Ellen Tauscher
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
April 20, 2010

Date: 04/20/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, briefs on the Obama administration's Nonproliferation Agenda at the Washington Foreign Press Center on April 20, 2010. - State Dept Image


3:00 p.m. EDT

Under Secretary Tauscher: Thank you, Jean. It’s good to see you today. Good afternoon, everyone. This is my first time here and it’s good to be with all of you.

As everyone in this room knows, April has been a big month for President Obama’s nuclear nonproliferation agenda. Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the new START Treaty in Prague. President Obama hosted the Nuclear Security Summit. The administration released its unclassified Nuclear Posture Review. And a Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference begins in about ten days.

That leaves two additional treaty pieces in the President’s agenda. As you know, the President supports the United States Senate ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have no specific timeline for its consideration by the Senate, but we are doing all the analysis necessary to determine how to best move the treaty forward. We expect the release of the National Academies of Science study reviewing the key technical issues underlying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to be released shortly.

With respect to a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, we urge the Conference on Disarmament to begin negotiations as soon as possible. We know that an agreement will not be reached quickly, but we believe that we must make progress to ban the production of additional material to be used in nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration is taking these concrete steps because we realize there is no greater threat to the American people than the spread of nuclear weapons.

Let me talk a little bit about the new START Treaty for a few minutes, and then I’m happy to take a few questions if you have them.

This landmark agreement accomplishes two goals. First, it enhances our national security by establishing lower verifiable limits on the strategic nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles deployed by both sides, and it maintains an effective verification regime appropriate to the obligations in the treaty. It does this while allowing us to retain the nuclear force levels we need to protect our country and our allies. The treaty does nothing to constrain the testing, development, or deployment of current and planned United States missile defense systems. As I said before, the treaty is about offensive strategic arms.

Second, the treaty furthers the goal of resetting our relationship with Russia and reinvigorates the arms control process. This treaty shows that the United States and Russia can work together on issues of mutual interest including top priorities like nuclear security and nonproliferation.

The real issue at hand is that the treaty increases transparency and predictability. The lack of both is too costly and too risky for both sides.

As we head toward the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference in May, the new START Treaty, the Nuclear Posture Review, and the commitments made at the Nuclear Security Summit demonstrate that the United States and Russia are abiding by the rules of the Nonproliferation Treaty. The Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference is not about any one country. It is all about NPT members and our collective responsibility to prevent the proliferation of dangerous and vulnerable nuclear material and technology. We are serious about doing our part to revitalize the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation regime and we are working with others to achieve that goal as well.

It is important to recognize that the review conference is not an end in and of itself, but rather a critical milestone in a process that will continue with work at the IAEA, the Conference on Disarmament, and other international fora.

We recognize the challenges of reaching agreement on a final document when so many countries are involved, the agenda is so broad, and consensus is the rule. Our objective here is to coalesce around those who have key steps and get the vast majority of NPT state parties prepared to undertake to reinforce the regime.

With that, I’m happy to take any questions that you might have.

Question: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. Dmitry Zlodorev for Itar-Tass.

I just wanted to ask you for a quick update on the new START Treaty. Are the technical annexes done? Is the whole package ready to be submitted to the U.S. Senate?

Under Secretary Tauscher: The package, as you know, is being conformed and certified in both Geneva and Washington and in Moscow. The annexes have been done for two weeks and now the process is to get the treaty package ready to submit to the Senate, and we hope to do that in early May.

Question: Patricia Mello with O Estado de Sao Paulo, Brazil newspaper. It’s good to see you. I have two related questions.

One, are you going to encourage countries such as Brazil that have not signed to the additional protocol of the nonproliferation agreement in the meeting in May to sign on to the additional protocol?

The second thing is, Brazil and Turkey are sort of campaigning to delay or not implement sanctions against Iran. Is this something that the U.S. is going to be thinking about delaying or not implementing sanctions against Iran?

Under Secretary Tauscher: The United States’ policy regarding the Nonproliferation Treaty and the protocol is that we would hope that it would have universal acceptance, that all countries would sign onto the Nonproliferation Treaty and to the additional protocol.

On delay on sanctions, we believe that there has been too much of a delay by Iran both in its lack of transparency and the assumption of the offer by the United States to work on the what we call persuasion track and to take the offer to work with us to provide the international community with more of a sense of confidence as to what they are exactly doing, considering that they are under a number of UN Security Council sanctions and they have their problems with the IAEA.

So we don’t think that the delay should be by anyone in the world community that is concerned about nuclear nonproliferation. We need to understand what Iran is doing. Iran has the obligation as an NPT party to provide us with the kind of sense of security that both the region and I think the world community is looking for.

Question: Keunsam Kim from Voice of America, Korea.

I want to ask you about North Korea. When North Korea reacted to the new U.S. NPR that they are going to extend their nuclear capacity. So I want to ask your concern about North Korean nuclear program.

I also want to ask you how will you address this North Korean nuclear issue in the NPT Review next month? Thank you.

Under Secretary Tauscher: North Korea, like Iran, should understand that the patience of the international community is not infinite and that we are looking for assurances. In the case of North Korea they have been very vocal about their intentions. They’ve left the Nonproliferation Treaty and they certainly have made very vocal rhetorical statements on their ambitions to have nuclear weapons.

The United States clearly is for a denuclearized North Korea and a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, is actively working in the 6-Party Talks, and we are in New York at the NPT RevCon looking to strengthen the Nonproliferation Treaty. We’re looking for many countries, hundreds of countries that are involved in the Nonproliferation Treaty to join us in making clear that these are serious commitments by serious countries to eschew the capabilities of nuclear weapons. We stand for all three pillars of the Nonproliferation Treaty. We have done a good job on disarmament as you can see with our most recent new START agreement. And we believe in the peaceful uses of nuclear power. But we do not believe that North Korea should have nuclear weapons and we are working significantly to apply pressure to make sure that they don’t have them.

Question: Christian Wernecke, Suedeutsche Zeitung. It’s nice to see you, Secretary.

I’d like to ask you more specifically, what are your objects for success for the RevCon next month? What would be a sign of success or failure of the conference?

Under Secretary Tauscher: I think what’s clear is that the United States and the nuclear powers want to make it obvious that our commitment to the three pillars of the NPT are as strong as ever; that we are very interested in making sure that specifically the nonproliferation pillar is strengthened. That the President in his Nuclear Security Summit last week brought together 47 heads of state with significant commitments from countries like Canada and Chile and the Ukraine and Mexico to eliminate their HEU; and the United States and Russia signed a historic agreement, ten years in the making, the Plutonium Disposition Agreement which will eliminate enough plutonium to make 17,000 weapons.

So keep in mind that the Nonproliferation Treaty Review is a month-long review conference. Lots of participation. And in the end there is no test for success other than the commitments of the member states to keep the treaty strong and to make sure that we keep this issue one that is in the forefront of the publics and the parliaments that we all represent.

So I think that our aim is to work, as we always do, toward consensus on any kind of statements or resolutions that are made, but for our case we want to make sure that countries reassert and reaffirm their commitments to the three pillars and that we are working together against the issues that President Obama has spoken about, specifically nonproliferation and the ability to deal with nuclear terrorism and the issue of new states acquiring nuclear weapons.

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Ezzat Abrahim. I’m from Al Ahram Newspaper in Cairo.

I would like to ask you about the report this morning in the Washington Post and from Reuters - they are mentioning that the U.S. might change its position in accepting the idea of having a meeting or a conference in 2011 to establish a Middle East nuclear free zone.

Also do you agree with the NAM Bloc that the outcome of the next conference will depend on the success of the Middle East issue?

Under Secretary Tauscher: Well I’d like to remind everybody that back in 1995 the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom were the ones that put forward what has become the Middle East WMD Free Zone Initiative Resolution, and of course we support it. It was partly our idea.

We have been working with many countries including Egypt for many years, but I think we all have to step back for a second and understand that the Middle East is unfortunately an area of great volatility and there are other issues that need to proceed before this kind of conference can go forward.

We of course are very much interested in having the region speak for itself and having the region promote a WMD Free Zone, but at the same time until there is a peace process that is moving forward and a number of these antecedent problems are well on the way to resolution, we think it will be difficult to move directly to a WMD Free Zone conference. But at the same time the United States, Russia, the UK and France and the P5 are working with Egypt and other countries on coming forward with the way to get through and past what has been a lingering issue and the fact that this 1995 resolution on a Middle East WMD Free Zone has not been resolved.

So we’re working energetically with our friends. We’re attempting to come to some kind of agreement to move forward on these elements. But at the same time nothing in any region of the country and certainly not the Middle East, can be taken in isolation. So the idea of moving forward just on a WMD Free Zone Conference I think misses the point that there are many other things that need to be done to create the atmosphere where countries in the Middle East can come together and make these kinds of decisions. But we’re very much in support of it.

As far as our NAM friends are concerned, we talk to them very often. I was honored to be at a lunch just last week at Vice President Biden’s residence where he hosted many of the senior members of the NAM and we expect to see many of them in New York at the NPT RevCon.

So I think we have a lot of agreement on these issues, but we certainly want to be sure that we queue in sequence how we go forward on many of these things and get them right so that we can get the kind of agreement that we would like.

Question: Lalit Jha, Press Trust of India. Welcome to the Foreign Press Center.

Under Secretary Tauscher: Thank you.

Question: Your administration is going ahead with implementing the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal to which you once disagreed with, opposing the deal. What made you change your stance, your personal opinion, about India’s nuclear program?

Secondly, given the landmark new START Treaty between the U.S. and Russia where both are cutting down their nuclear arsenals extensively, do you think it’s time for India and Pakistan to cut down their nuclear arsenal, or freeze their production capacity now?

Under Secretary Tauscher: Congresswoman Tauscher and Under Secretary Tauscher occupy the same body but not in the same time. What I did in the Congress was one thing, and I will remind you that the resolution that I opposed passed. I get quite used to accepting when things pass and letting them go on.

As Under Secretary I obviously have some responsibilities to implement the agreement between our two countries. I’m very honored to have been in India late last year. I met with my counterpart, Foreign Secretary Rao. We have a very vibrant and very significant relationship with India.

So I think that generally I will quote the President on nuclear weapons. President Obama has an ambition for the world, that it will be a world free of nuclear weapons. We in the United States are taking our part. We have this historic agreement with Russia, and we have obviously a Nuclear Posture Review where the President has diminished the role of nuclear weapons in our force posture, and we also have a new negative security assurance that makes clear that countries that are non-nuclear weapon states that are in compliance with their NPT obligations will not be threatened or targeted with nuclear strike by the United States.

So I think that we here in the Obama administration are very clear what our positions are, and what I did in the Congress is something in the past.

Question: Maria Tabak from Russia New Agency, Novosti.

I wonder if you still expect the new START Treaty to be ratified before the end of this year? Because the Majority Leader mentioned that it might be ratified early next year. So just to make sure.

Under Secretary Tauscher: I never contradict the Senate Majority Leader, but I think the President is looking for the opportunity to ask the advice and consent of the Senate. It’s the President that ratifies it, it’s the advice and consent of the Senate to get the President to ratify it, is how the process works. Our intention is to try to bring this treaty up to the Senate, as I said, next month. We’re hopeful that there will be hearings and that a political decision will be made about it for consideration some time after that.

Question: Desmond Butler with the AP.

I want to try Christian’s question another way. In what specific ways would the U.S. like to see the NPT strengthened following the conference?

Under Secretary Tauscher: Clearly what we believe is that in the three pillars, that there has to be a commitment of the nuclear weapon states to disarm, and we believe in the United States that we have since Soviet times, we’ve brought our weapons down by the tens of thousands. So we think that we have not been perfect on this record, but we certainly have done a good job.

On the nonproliferation pillar, we believe as the President said in the Nuclear Security Summit that the world is more threatened now than it was even during a time when both the United States and the former Soviet Union were targeting each other every day with nuclear weapons. That’s for two reasons. First is that we have terrorist groups and organized crime and other bad actors that are looking to acquire nuclear technology, nuclear know-how, nuclear material. And secondarily, we have more states looking to acquire nuclear weapons than we have had in the last 15 years.

So specific to the other two pillars -- disarmament, peaceful uses, and nonproliferation -- the President is specifically looking at the nonproliferation part. The additional protocol of the IAEA is something that the President believes countries should adhere to and that we would like universality of the NPT which is having every country sign onto the nonproliferation treaty.

So there are many many different initiatives that we believe countries have to pay attention to. We look forward to very energetic conversations in New York, but at the same time it’s important that we hold accountable countries that are signatories to the NPT at the same time. And certainly countries like Iran. It’s important that we make clear that the significant obligations of countries that are party to the NPT include living up to the agreements of the NPT.

Question: Hi, my name is Wen Chen from China’s Global Times.

I have a question just to follow up what you just said, that is the Administration wants every country to sign on to the NPT. Then is it the position of the government to encourage countries like India and Pakistan to also sign the treaty? Thanks.

Under Secretary Tauscher: We would like all countries to sign onto the NPT. We have a universality commitment, yes.

Question: Doing something encouraging?

Under Secretary Tauscher: Let’s be clear. The countries that you mentioned are very special friends of the United States. We have conversations with them every day about many different things, but we have made our position clear on the NPT.

Question: Nickolay Zimin, Russia, Itogi News Agency.

Back to ratification. I thought some experts expressed doubts that the U.S. Senate is going to ratify the START Treaty. So what makes you sure that it will happen?

Under Secretary Tauscher: Well, you're never sure. That’s why we have an extensive outreach program and have had one since the President and President Medvedev met over a year ago and agreed to go forward to negotiate a follow-on to the START Treaty that was inconveniently expiring on December 5th of last year.

This is never a sure thing. That’s why it’s important that you have extensive consultations with the Senate. We had, for example, Senator Kyle and Senator Feinstein come to Geneva last November as observers. Half the time that Rose Gottemoeller - head of our delegation - was in Washington, when she wasn’t in Geneva, she was up on the Hill consulting with the Senate.

This is a very important opportunity for us to bring our message forward. We haven’t, as a Senate, as you know, ratified a treaty like this in a while so there are a lot of processes about this, but we’re encouraged by the things that Senator Lugar has said, certainly Senator Kerry as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations has taken a very big leadership role. Senator Feinstein and Senator Levin as Chairman of the Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committees may look to have hearings. So it’s a mistake to assume that the advice of the Senate is a rubber stamp. It’s not. That’s why this is a process that is about politics and policy, but it is most important that the issues about the START Treaty, why the President believes it was important to get one and why the treaty that he has gotten and signed just less than two weeks ago in Prague is one that he wants the support of the Senate because he believes it’s the best thing for the American people and he’s happy to make that case.

Question: Sungwon Yang with Radio Free Asia, Korea.

What’s your assessment on the possibility of North Korean nuclear proliferation, especially towards the terrorists? Thank you.

Under Secretary Tauscher: I think we were disturbed by different activities we see coming out of North Korea, usually by ship. I think it’s important to say that these are very destabilizing activities, that this is a regime that is provocative in its activities and one that does not live under the trust or with the trust of its regional neighbors. That is a disturbing set of circumstances when that country blends with those activities the kind of rhetoric that it employs.

What’s important is that the 6-Party Talks -- China has been very instrumental, South Korea has been very instrumental. So the opportunity for us, the United States, to work with our regional partners to make clear that we want a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and that we want the regime to be more transparent, more open as to what their activities are, and to stop these provocative activities. I don’t think we can make it any clearer.

Question: Zdenek Fusik, Czech News Agency.

As we all know, Russia has said that it would withdraw from the new START Treaty if it felt threatened by the U.S. missile defense. So in this respect I would like to ask you what is more important to you: Is it the new START Treaty or the missile defense? Would you be willing to modify the missile defense in case it would save the new START Treaty?

Under Secretary Tauscher: Look, the new START Treaty is about strategic offensive arms. We have made very clear that our limited missile defense system called the phased adapted approach in Europe is not either targeted at the Russians or frankly oriented in a way where it could hurt the Russians. What’s important here is that we have a strategic balance between ourselves and the Russians and that is what the tenor of the Russian unilateral statement is.

Unilateral statements are parts of many treaties. They were part of the 1991 START Treaty. Think about what unilateral statements are. Think about what a treaty is. A treaty is essentially a series of agreed statements. What a unilateral statement is is something that one of the other parties don’t agree to and it is a statement that is not legally binding. It is usually part of the package that goes to the Senate to be ratified because of the way we want to have transparency here in the United States, and I understand that the Russians plan to do that with the Duma.

But the statement that the Russians have made is very clear. I will remind everyone that in the START Treaty there were similar statements. In the end the United States under the Bush administration abrogated the ABM Treaty and created its own missile defense. But the Russians didn’t leave the START Treaty.

So I think that these are statements that are made for many different reasons, and I think it’s important to know that the United States’ statement reaffirms our commitment to having a missile defense system and having a missile defense system that is robust and that can protect the United States, our allies, and our forward deployed troops against what we consider to be an emerging threat.

So both sides get to say what they want in the unilateral statements, but in the end, history has proven to us that unilateral statements didn’t create a problem in the 1991 START Agreement that just expired, and we believe that many of the measures that we’re taking with the Russians where we have a warming relationship, where we’re working together on a number of different areas of cooperation, will serve the test of time and that the treaty will go all the way to the end.

Question: Hawon Lee with Chosun Ilbo, South Korea.

Last week South Korea was chosen as the country which will hold the second Nuclear Security Summit in 2012. Could you let me know why South Korea was chosen as the country which will hold the Nuclear Security Summit? And do you think the South Koreans can analyze this as a green light to renew the agreement with United States regarding nuclear issues which should have been negotiated by 2014?

And I’m wondering whether or not your perception regarding the pyroprocessing, which elsewhere is researching, has been changed. Thank you.

Under Secretary Tauscher: I haven’t changed my mind on pyroprocessing. That’s an easy one.

Of course we have a very strong relationship with South Korea and the Republic of Korea as far as I know was not chosen per se, but that it was important that we had a strong ally who has the same commitments and the same vision on both nuclear terrorism and no additional states acquiring nuclear weapons, and has the kind of energy to have the conference in 2012. I think that President Lee made the offer, and I’m not sure whether there were lots of other offers, but I know that President Obama was very thrilled that the Republic of Korea is going to be hosting the 2012 second round of the Nuclear Security Summit.

Thank you.

# # # #