11:00 A.M. EDT
NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MS. GRUNDER: Good morning, everyone. I’m Alyson Grunder, the director of the New York Foreign Press Center. Thank you for coming this morning. We’re very pleased to have Assistant Secretary Thomas Countryman here. He is the Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation at the State Department. You all have his biography, and so I think we’ll just get right to Assistant Secretary Countryman’s briefing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Good morning. Thank you for coming here. Thank you for your interest in the important cause of nuclear nonproliferation. I’m pleased to lead the United States delegation these next two weeks to the Preparatory Committee for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The United States looks forward to building in these two weeks upon the significant accomplishments of the treaty, and we are optimistic that the work that we do in these two weeks will lead to a successful outcome next year at the 2015 review conference.
Let me outline the general approach that we have to the Nonproliferation Treaty, and I’ll refer you to some additional materials, and then I’ll be very happy to take any questions that you have.
The Nonproliferation Treaty is the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation regime. It has three mutually reinforcing pillars. First, it is an essential legal barrier to the further spread of nuclear weapons. Second, it is the foundation and the framework for efforts to further reduce existing nuclear arsenals. And third, it is the vehicle in which we promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and technology under appropriate safeguards.
At this final session of the preparatory committee before next year’s very important review conference, we hope that all states party to the treaty will take stock of the progress made in implementing the 2010 Action Plan, including reporting on what each state party has done to advance those actions to identify remaining obstacles and to work to find common ground to overcome such obstacles.
The United States is more committed than ever to pursuing full implementation of the treaty and finding comprehensive solutions to the challenges the treaty faces. These three objectives – nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses – are not competing with each other. Each of them brings important benefits to all NPT parties, and they are complementary, they are reinforcing. As a consequence, the Nonproliferation Treaty is greater than the sum of its three parts and has done more to create security for all nations on the earth than, in my view, any other treaty.
The United States is committed to action on all fronts to strengthen the Nonproliferation Treaty. We have a strong record of accomplishment, and we’re eager to talk about it. We continue to fulfill our obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, with Russia, now in its fourth successful year of implementation.
We are not satisfied however with what we have accomplished in the field of nuclear arms reductions. President Obama has made it a defining characteristic of his administration to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, and we continue that difficult, painstaking work. The U.S. is open to seek negotiated reductions with Russia in all categories of nuclear weapon, including strategic and nonstrategic nuclear weapons. For decades now, this steady, painstaking step-by-step process of nuclear disarmament has ensured continued strategic stability at dramatically lower levels of nuclear weapons and dramatically lower probability of use.
The U.S. leads the international community in responsibly producing verification methodologies and processes that are essential to achieving transparency and to building confidence at increasingly lower levels of nuclear arsenals. We continue to support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, we continue to work towards the establishment of a nuclear and WMD-free zone in the Middle East, and to support nuclear weapons-free zones established in other parts of the world. We continue to lead in making voluntary contributions to – through the peaceful uses initiative to the IAEA’s technical cooperation fund, so that all states can benefit from nuclear science.
In short, we are focused on taking practical steps to strengthen all three pillars of the Nonproliferation Treaty. We’ve accomplished a lot, but much more work remains to be done. I’d like to refer you to a couple of key documents, some of which are available here.
First, just a few minutes ago, Under Secretary Rose Gottemoeller delivered the statement on behalf of the United States to open our participation in this PrepCom. She announced the new figures for the United States nuclear stockpile, and specifically that the current stockpile of nuclear weapons in the United States – it has fallen to 4,804. This is an 85 percent reduction in the number of weapons held by the United States, since its peak in 1967. And there’s further information, including a graph showing this trend, that’s available here.
Secondly, we will be releasing now the United States report to the PrepCom, as required by the 2010 Action Plan, and it lays out very carefully everything that we have done in the fields of disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses to advance the goals of the NPT. It’s an awful lot of detail, but I think that it meets our commitment to report back on the steps that we have taken. And we would hope that all states party don’t simply criticize what other states have done or not done but actually report on what they have done, what each member state has done.
So I’d like to refer you to those documents. I refer you also to the statement by Secretary Kerry that was read by Under Secretary Gottemoeller in her speech this morning. But I’ll stop there, and I’d be very happy to take all the questions you may have about the NPT.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Yoshiaki Kasuga, Asahi Shimbun. I have a question on the – how do you think about the influence of the situation of Ukraine, especially the Russian violation against the Budapest Memorandum, on the PrepCom debate?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: The Russian occupation of a portion of Ukraine’s territory, as well as continued Russian actions to destabilize the Government of Ukraine, are not simply a violation of the Budapest Memorandum, but are a violation of international law on several levels. And that should concern all of us.
The Budapest Memorandum actually included language that is contained in other binding international documents, including the United Nations Charter, the final act of the Helsinki Conference – that is, the requirements of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe – and others. And in violating that commitment, it was not a violation of a single piece of paper, but much broader.
We hope that the situation in Ukraine is resolved in a way that fully respects the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the state of Ukraine. We also hope that such a resolution could erase any doubts as to the commitment of all five nuclear weapon states to any assurances that they give to non-nuclear weapon states. But we will have to see how that develops not just in this PrepCom, but actually on the ground.
QUESTION: Mr. Countryman, yesterday and today we heard from the Arab delegates. My name, sorry: Nizar Abboud of Al Mayadeen television in Beirut.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Thank you. The Arab group looks skeptic about the intentions with regard to the 1995 agreement on nonproliferation in the Middle East and making the Middle East a non-nuclear zone. And also they made, like, a threat yesterday that unless the conference on the Middle East is convened by the end of this year, they probably will not subscribe to next year’s renovation of that agreement, or resumption of the agreement. What’s your position? Are you going to put any pressure on the parties who are not part of NPT in the Middle East, particularly Israel, which is, of course, your main ally in the region? However, they look defiant that they – so far – that they are not going to be part of NPT.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Well, let’s deal with both the negative and the positive aspects of that. I don’t believe that it is the position of most Arab states to make threats about participation or nonparticipation in the NPT. I know that some voices make such a threat. It is a particularly self-defeating threat. There is no country in this world that can advance its security by removing itself from participation in the Nonproliferation Treaty. And the vast majority of states, whether Arab, nonaligned, or other, recognize that fact.
Let’s look at the positive. First, the United States is firmly committed to the goal of establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We have shared that commitment with the states of the region for more than 20 years. More specifically, we take seriously our assignment under the 2010 Action Plan to work towards convening a conference – not establishing the zone, but just having a meeting to begin discussing how to create a process for such a zone.
We have the obligation not just to convene a conference but to ensure that all states of the region believe that they can attend on a basis that meets their national requirements. Note that the 2010 Action Plan said, “Must be attended by all states of the region.” I don’t know a single state in the Middle East that will go to a conference because the U.S. demands that it does so. All of these states are independent, they are proud, and they are sovereign. Like any other diplomatic process, this process must be owned not by the United States, United Kingdom, and Russian Federation as the conveners; it must be owned by the states of the region. And they must find the solutions that will enable a conference to be held and a process to begin.
Here there has been encouraging news. For the first time in many years, three times in the last six months, representatives of Arab states and Israel have sat in the same room and had discussions about regional security issues and how to design a conference that all states would be ready to attend. We will continue with such discussions after this PrepCom, and if all states of the region can find the political will to make compromises on agenda and other arrangements, it will be possible to convene this conference in the near future. But it is simply a misconception to say that this depends only upon one state or upon another state. It depends upon all the states of the region taking ownership of their idea and engaging in normal diplomacy.
QUESTION: Can you – sorry. Can I have a follow-up on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Please.
QUESTION: Can you mention which countries – sorry. Which countries have sat with Israel in conference together to discuss these things? Can you specify them, please?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: It’s a number of Arab states.
QUESTION: Gulf or North African?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: The majority of Arab states.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Assistant Secretary. BBC Persian, Bahman Kalbasi here. If you don’t mind just – possible to elaborate on where the fault lines really are right now versus – West versus the non-alliance movement, on the Additional Protocol? How much is that a problem, and especially vis-a-vis Iran? And where is the relationship between – how do these negotiations of P5+1 with Iran goes in regards to the paraphrasing or the interpretation of whether or not enrichment is part of the rights of the nations?
What are – how much do these affect each other if you – I know these are broad questions but especially on – the Persian Gulf’s security is – in Arab countries in Persian Gulf and Iran have been talking about the future of NPT. And so the question really is: How much that those conversations with Iran can affect – if there is a deal, then next year would be a very different picture than if there isn’t. Wouldn’t you agree with that? And if so, how much enrichment could be at the center of this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Mm-hmm. Well, first, let’s be clear that I will not speak about the 5+1 negotiations with Iran or make any projection about their chances for success. There are other U.S. spokesmen who can speak to that.
I will say that we have reached the point of meaningful, serious negotiations between Iran and the 5+1, because the international community has shown a great degree of unity in insisting that Iran live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That is a success of this treaty. And if and when we get to an agreement between Iran and the six parties, the 5+1, I think it will be a further success for the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Now, the issues that are being discussed in negotiations with Iran, such as enrichment, are often presented as rights, as theoretical rights possessed by members of the NPT. That’s not the way we read the treaty. We can’t find a right to enrichment anywhere in the Nonproliferation Treaty. But the negotiations are not, from our perspective, about rights. They are about practical solutions that can reassure the world of Iran’s intentions and capabilities, and that would strengthen the NPT.
That’s as much as I can comment. I do not believe that the 5+1 negotiations themselves are a topic for this PrepCom.
QUESTION: What about the Additional Protocol?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Well, the Additional Protocol – the United States viewpoint is clear. After it became obvious that Iraq, despite being a member of the NPT, had managed to conceal important nuclear weapons-related activities from the International Atomic Energy – when that became clear more than 20 years ago, the IAEA and its member states developed the Additional Protocol as a means to prevent that from happening again. The United States remains convinced that the Additional Protocol is a valuable tool for building international security, for ensuring that each state that is a member of the NPT has confidence about the intentions and capabilities of other states. That’s inherently stabilizing and promoting of the goals of the treaty. For that reason, we regard the additional protocol as the new international norm when it comes to safeguards and pursuing the role of the IAEA.
That’s our position with regard to this PrepCom, and we will espouse it again during the debate this week and next. Again, it is a separate issue how that enters into the 5+1 negotiations and I won’t comment on that today.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Elena Kondrateva, Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. Do you think – will sanctions against Russia affect cooperation between Moscow and Washington in the area of nonproliferation?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: The United States and the Russian Federation have had many ups and downs in their bilateral relationships over the last 23 years. Throughout those ups and downs, both sides have maintained a determination to minimize the effect of negative relations on our cooperation on essential security matters, including in the field of nonproliferation and disarmament. That remains our determination today. And as a consequence, even at the most difficult moment of Russian-American or Russian-rest-of-the-world relations that I’ve seen in 23 years, we are determined to pursue issues that affect global security. And this includes implementation of the New START Treaty, it includes the negotiations with Iran, and it includes the process of removing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities.
In these areas and others, we will continue to do our best to work with Russian partners. But without question, the effect of Russian actions in the Ukraine will be to erode confidence and to make it more difficult to work together in other lower-priority areas.
I see someone on the screen I don’t know.
MS. GRUNDER: Yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRMAN: Okay.
MS. GRUNDER: Okay, so the questioner from Washington. Washington? Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, Mr. Countryman. My name is Chi-Dong Lee. I’m a Washington correspondent for South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. You are negotiating with the Republic of Korea on 123 agreement? I’m just wondering if there is any signs of differences being mellowed on South Korea’s move to expand its peaceful nuclear activities with its nuclear – principal nuclear programs, I mean, such as uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of the spent fuel. And we know that the United States recently signed a 123 agreement with Vietnam. Media reports say there is no golden standard in the agreement, so do you think it’s going to affect the 123 agreement with South Korea? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRMAN: Thank you. Can you hear me? I am negotiating a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Republic of Korea, but not this week. We will conclude a nuclear cooperation agreement with a valued ally, the Republic of Korea, in the near future. It will reflect the fact that South Korea is not only a vital partner of the United States but is a leader in the world of civil nuclear technology. I look forward to reaching that conclusion. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Good morning. My name is Tetsuya from Japan’s Jiji Press News Agency. For past several years, we have been seeing growing discussion of inhumanity of nuclear weapons. So as a reality, frankly speaking, to what extent do you expect this growing discussion effect on the U.S. nuclear disarmament policy as well as nuclear countries? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: I think no one understands better than Japan and the United States the severe humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. The United States is absolutely determined to extend what is now a 69-year-long record of non-use of nuclear weapons and to make it last forever. And no one has done more than the United States to reduce the risk of such an event occurring again – not only, as I said, by reducing our stockpiles to the lowest number in 45 years, but also in – excuse me, in more than 50 years – but also by taking steps to minimize the chance that the U.S. arsenal would ever be used accidentally or in miscalculation, changing our nuclear force posture to greatly reduce the possibility and the circumstances under which the use of nuclear weapons would be considered.
There is, as you say, an interest today in discussing the humanitarian impacts of the use of nuclear weapons. We are prepared to engage in an open-minded discussion of such humanitarian impacts, including how the world should prepare for the unlikely event that such nuclear weapons are used and how the world could respond. We’re not afraid of such a dialogue.
We do not wish to engage in a dialogue that has a different purpose, which is to drive towards a solution outside of the Nonproliferation Treaty, that does not offer a realistic means of achieving the goals that it calls for. There is in the United States view no alternative to the very hard, detailed work that takes days and weeks and years of building confidence among nuclear weapon states, improving verification technologies, and gradually negotiating down the levels of armaments until we reach zero. I have deep respect for those who believe that there is a shortcut. I simply cannot agree with them.
MS. GRUNDER: We’ll take another question from New York and then go back to Washington.
QUESTION: I’m Liling from Feature Story News. Given the progress being made in the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks, how does that affect Israel’s nuclear policy, and does it open the way to pressuring Israel into joining the treaty?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRMAN: You would have to ask the Israelis how it affects their policy. It remains the United States view that the Nonproliferation Treaty should be universal. We would like all states that are not members to join as non-nuclear weapon states.
MS. GRUNDER: Washington, you may ask your question.
QUESTION: My name is Sungchul Rhee with SBS, Seoul Broadcasting System, from Seoul, Korea. Mr. Countryman, North Korea, DPRK, is reported to have prepared or is preparing for another nuclear test, its fourth test. Do you think still North Korea is a significant factor that should be considered under the NPT regime, or is there any way that NPT members can address North Korean nuclear issue or threat emanating from that nuclear capability?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Certainly, we would expect that all members of the NPT who take their obligations seriously will speak openly, forthrightly this week about the threat that North Korea poses, not only to its neighbors and itself, but to the Nonproliferation Treaty and the international nonproliferation regime. We believe that this is an obligation of member states of the NPT to be honest about one of the greatest challenges to the success of the treaty. So I would hope that we would hear that from member states during the discussion this week and next.
QUESTION: We heard this week from the foreign minister of Marshall Islands some skepticism about the number of the nuclear warheads which are still available. And he said the – you betrayed the world – I mean, the big nine countries, which are nuclear countries – he named them – betrayed the world by developing their nuclear weapons and making them more advanced while cutting down on the number. What is your answer to him on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: I’m sorry I didn’t hear his speech. He was speaking about recent developments?
QUESTION: He was – yes. Yesterday, Marshall Island put a case in the international --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: I’m aware of that.
QUESTION: -- justice. Yeah. And he said yesterday that the nine countries, the nine nuclear countries, including Israel he mentioned, have betrayed the world and they are deceiving by making their nuclear warheads more advanced, more lethal than the ones before while claiming that they are cutting down on their numbers.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: I’m sorry I didn’t hear his speech, and so I can only respond to your description of the speech. But I’d have to say there is no truth to the statement, as you’ve described it. There’s no deceit. The United States has never been more transparent about our stockpiles, about our nuclear force posture, about the supplies of fissile material available to us. And it is simply not correct to say that we are developing or improving weapons. That is not the case. The only money that we are spending on existing weapons is to ensure their safety and reliability. But it does not add a new weapon category or a new capability for any weapon. So I’m not seeking to disagree with a good friend of the United States such as the Marshall Islands. I can only respond to these comments as you’ve reported them.
QUESTION: My name is Ken Okasaka from Japanese Kyodo News. And I’d like to ask you, from what you’ve said, I understand that you are optimistic about the success of this PrepCom. But what’s your definition of success and what’s the bottom line for the United States? And just quick question about – is there any expectation that you hold a bilateral meeting with Russian colleagues? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Well, if I gave you our bottom line now we could skip the next two weeks, right? (Laughter.) I don’t want to define success, because we are in the middle of a process, a process that began two years ago with the first PrepCom and that will culminate next year in the review conference. I would only say that we hope to avoid serious disagreements and clashes. We hope that no state would resort to counterproductive threats about withdrawing or not participating.
And on the positive side, that we could take the very successful 2010 PrepCom, have an honest review, not of one of the 64 items but of all 64 items; not evaluate the performance by one or two or five countries, but evaluate the performance by all members of the NPT. And with that kind of honest look in the mirror, build upon additional steps that we can take next year at the review conference in all three pillars. The focus on simply one or the focus on criticizing any particular state or group of states is not a constructive way to achieve the kind of consensus that we’d like to see next year.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Russia, we’re happy to talk to the Russians in this context.
QUESTION: One more question.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: And let me just note on that that in addition to the U.S. report that is issued this morning, there will be a nuclear weapons statement that is a P5 statement based upon the ongoing consultations that we do – U.S., Russia, UK, France, China – on ways to meet our obligations under the 2010 Action Plan. So you will see a statement like that in the plenary session.
QUESTION: Does the United States have the political will to persuade India, Pakistan, Israel, DPRK to join in NPT regime? If so, how do you persuade those countries?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: I am open to your suggestion on how to persuade those countries to join the NPT. We have a position, and our position is well known to all members of the NPT – that we would like to see universal membership in the NPT. If it were only a question of the United States political will, that would be one thing, but I think it is a great simplification of reality to say that this is only up to the United States to accomplish this.
QUESTION: There have been concerns lately about Japan’s nuclear weapons policy. How worried is the U.S. about that? And where do you stand in terms of extending the U.S.-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement that expires in 2018?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Very simply, I do not have concern with Japan’s nuclear weapons policy. They have no nuclear weapons. That’s a good policy. It is consistent with the NPT, and the Japanese actions are consistent with the NPT, with additional protocol, with the safeguards agreement, with the IAEA. I understand some countries wish to make a political issue, where, in the United States view, none needs to exist.
We will negotiate a new 123 – a new nuclear cooperation agreement with Japan before the expiration of the current agreement, and I think will reflect fully Japan’s status as an advanced civil nuclear power, and that it will fully respect, as we seek in every 123 agreement, the highest standards of nonproliferation, nuclear safety, and nuclear security.
MS. GRUNDER: We’ll go back to Washington and then come back to New York.
QUESTION: Mr. Countryman, I have a quick follow-up on my previous question. What is your view on the status of DPRK/North Korea? Is it still a member of Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: I don’t have a view.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on my previous question: I’d like to ask the – your view on the legal status of North Korea with regard to the NPT regime. What is the status of DPRK in the NPT regime? Is it still a state member of – to the NPT treaty?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Thank you. I heard the question the first time.
The DPRK was not in compliance with its IAEA safeguards obligations when it announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2013. The DPRK committed in 2005 to return to the NPT and IAEA safeguards. We continue to hold the DPRK to these commitments. It is also required by the UN Security Council to act strictly in accordance with the obligations that apply to parties under the NPT. The NPT requirements remain binding upon the DPRK.
QUESTION: Many countries at the United Nations yesterday and today asked for guarantees that those who don’t have or relinquish their nuclear capabilities are not – will not be threatened or be attacked by nuclear weapons. Would the United States give such a pledge?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: We have given such a pledge in the nuclear force posture statement that we issued four years ago, and I urge you to look at it. We give such a pledge to non-nuclear weapon states party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.
MS. GRUNDER: Do we have any final questions in New York or Washington? If not, that concludes our briefing. Thank you, Assistant Secretary Countryman. Thank you for coming.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY COUNTRYMAN: Thank you for your time, and I urge you to take a look at some of the materials we have here.