An official website of the United States government

Press Briefing with Rose Gottemoeller at the First Committee of the UNGA
October 7, 2010

Rose Gottemoeller
Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance

New York, NY
October 7, 2010


MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the U.S. mission. For those of you who it’s your first time, we hope you enjoy our new briefing room. For those of you who were here during UNGA and saw some of our briefings, welcome back. We are very pleased today that Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller is here to brief. She is now the head of a newly reorganized bureau and she’s going to discuss exactly what that is and what that means. So – and she’ll be available for questions afterwards.

So without further ado, here is Assistant Secretary Gottemoeller.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you very much, everybody, and welcome to this beautiful briefing room. This is my first time here as well. I am here to speak to the UN First Committee. I gave my remarks this morning which laid out in full detail President Obama’s main goals and priorities with regard to disarmament and arms control and nonproliferation regimes.

I did want to emphasize overall that this is taking place in a kind of new context in the Department of State. This past Friday, Secretary Clinton announced that the bureau that I head up, the bureau is now named the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, and that is to restore arms control policymaking to the Department of State and, at the same time, to reiterate that the full range of policy activities in this sphere, from the formulation of arms control policies through the implementation of treaties, and very importantly their verification and the compliance of states parties to treaties, are all part of the work that we do at the Department of State. So my new title is Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. So that is part of the message we are bringing to New York on this occasion, and I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to talk to all of the delegations here about it, but also to talk to you about it this morning.

Now, in terms of the substance of my remarks overall, I was emphasizing that we’ve had a busy year in arms control policy in the United States and certainly it keys off President Obama’s Prague speech from April of 2009, where he talked about his overall goals and priorities of a world without nuclear weapons. In April, we had what we were calling our Nuclear April at the time. We had – our Nuclear Posture Review was completed and published, then we completed negotiation of the New START Treaty, and President Obama and President Medvedev signed that treaty on April 8th in Prague. And finally, the Nuclear Security Summit took place at the end of the month, where many leaders from around the world came to Washington to discuss nuclear security, fissile material protection and control, and signed up to a goal of bringing fissile materials under stronger control over a four-year period. So that was a very important goal as well.

I also discussed this morning our priority goal of ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Secretary Clinton, in speaking to the NPT RevCon last May, underscored our continuing priority – ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And that does remain a strong goal of the United States.

I also discussed the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty this morning and our interesting seeing it negotiated. I have to tell you that I expressed some disappointments at the fact that the Conference on Disarmament over the last years has become less energetic in terms of pursuing its overall agenda, and we are very concerned that we need to find a venue for ensuring that negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty goes forward, because if we are seeking a world free of nuclear weapons and the United States is a ban on fissile material, a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty that bans the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes is an extraordinarily important goal.

So that just gives you a small kind of summary of the main topics that I raised in my speech this morning. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to see the speech in full. I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have.


MODERATOR: Please state your name and organization for the transcript.

QUESTION: Patrick Worsnip from Reuters. You mentioned the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. From the UN perspective, the paralysis in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva as regards addressing this treaty is probably the number one problem and it’s being blocked – everybody knows – by Pakistan. Gary Samore had some fairly sharp words about Pakistan at the meeting that was held here during the General Assembly.

What can the United States do and will it do to try to persuade Pakistan to change its approach, or does it think that the best way is to just go outside the CD and negotiate it somewhat in some other context?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Well, first of all, our strong preference and our priority is to pursue negotiations of the FMCT in the Conference on Disarmament. We’ve seen success in the Conference on Disarmament over the years. I was at work during the Clinton Administration when the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was negotiated in that forum, so I believe that it is a very important international multilateral forum that can deliver. And so for that reason, we are preferring that we go forward in that way.

But our patience will not last forever, and I think that Gary Samore was reflecting that in his remarks to the UN General Assembly, and they were echoed in my remarks to the First Committee this morning.

In the meantime, though, we’re not standing still; we’re working with everybody who is interested in this important priority goal and doing everything we can to begin some more or less informal talks both about how to move forward and also to think about what the contours overall of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty should be. So I think there’s no reason to stand still in any event, we will definitely continue to press to see if we can get to a place where we can negotiate this treaty in the CD.

QUESTION: Last month in Vienna, there was the Arab proposal to – about Israel and that proposal, and one of the ways that you were able to undermine it was by telling the Arabs that if that resolution passes, then it will be very difficult for you to organize that conference in the Middle East, that regional conference that was agreed upon during the UN meeting. The question is: How is that conference going? Is it going to happen? What’s going to be on the agenda there and is it still feasible?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: The references to the resolution —

QUESTION: Benny Avni with Israel Radio and New York Post.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you. The references to the so-called Israeli Nuclear Capabilities Resolution at the IAEA General Conference, indeed we were very concerned, extremely concerned about this resolution, and worked very hard to ensure that the vote was not favorable with regard to this resolution. We strongly believe that no country should be picked out with regard to policies in this realm, and furthermore we are very, very keen to see a successful Middle East conference in 2012. And for that reason, we need to ensure that all countries in the region are comfortable with attending. And so I think that was our priority goal.

As far as what now, we emerged from the IAEA General Conference and the vote looking to the future, looking for the ways that we will work with the UN depositary states and with other interested countries essentially to now develop the agenda. You asked what’s on the agenda. It’s early days yet. But certainly, we emerged and are ready to work now to develop the agenda, to develop the organizational details. Who is going to be the facilitator, how – where will the conference occur – those kinds of questions are now very much at the center of attention. So we’re ready to work essentially.

QUESTION: Can I follow up (inaudible)?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) that region a little bit, but what you call singling out one country will not be the focus of that – of that meeting as well, because you know the region.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Well, consistency of policy, I think. In order to have a successful conference, there’s no question that we have to continue pressing very hard on that line and ensure that all can come to the table and really get something out of the conference. That’s the bottom line.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: Hi, Rose. I’d like to apologize for being late, but getting in here through security is about a half-hour process and there was – there are still probably four or five people downstairs on line.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: I’ll just have to keep talking.

QUESTION: That’s right. A question – she knows me. Edith Lederer from the Associated Press. A question on the Conference on Disarmament, which is quite a high priority for the U.S. What issues do you think there is the possibility of really seriously starting work on – a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, what else? And what’s the U.S. doing to try and promote some serious action?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: We had in 2009, the spring of 2009, we had a consensus about the program of work emerging in the CD and it extended to, first, focusing on negotiation of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, launching those negotiations, but certainly a willingness to look at and discuss and consider other issues of concern to the countries in the CD, among them space and weapons in space, issues related to nuclear disarmament, issues related to security assurances. So I think there is a willingness to proceed with this program of work that was agreed at that time on a consensus basis.

And our own view is that we should now go back to that consensus that was found. We consider the FMCT negotiations ripe for launching at this point and we see that we can make some real progress in that area. And by the way, there is a significant – for those of you who haven’t been involved in this issue, there’s been a significant switch in U.S. policy in this area. We are now looking at a verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and that requires a significant amount of work, of course, on technologies and on approaches and procedures for verification, but it’s an area that we think is quite ripe for discussion and detailed discussion in the international community.

So that’s how we see it, and we’d really like to see if we can return to that consensus in time to get agreement in January of 2011 when the CD resumes its sessions to move forward on that program of work. So we’ll see if we can manage it. That’s the overall effort underway now is to really try to push that approach and return to what was a successful – very successful in the history of the CD – effort at acquiring consensus for an agenda, a program of work.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. As I recall, it was Pakistan that was really responsible for blocking action at the last session. Do you see any significant change in the Pakistani position?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Well, before you came up, we did talk about this a little bit. There was a comment that my colleague from the White House, Gary Samore, spoke last week about this and expressed our concerns with the Pakistani position and their current overall approach. We did, in the meantime, also have the high-level meeting that the Secretary General organized to really talk about how to bust loose of this set of problems in the FMCT world and move forward in the Conference on Disarmament. And we welcomed the Secretary General’s convening of this meeting and I think it’s given a little boost of momentum, and we’re hopeful that it will actually cause all concerned to take a fresh look at these issues, but specifically our colleagues in Pakistan. So we’ll continue to work with the Secretary General, with the other parties to the CD, the other states parties, and see what we can do to get things moving.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Hi, Bill Varner with Bloomberg News. Can you talk a little bit about the background of the – what you called the significant change in policy concerning the verifiable treaty?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. Well, President Obama had a very significant line in his Prague speech in April of 2009. He said that commitments have to mean something, people have to be ready to proceed forward and really work to comply with international treaties and agreements that they put forward. And so for that reason, the whole emphasis of this Administration has been on finding measures and means in arms control treaties that will allow them to be effectively verifiable. If you just have an arms control treaty that has no verification measures associated with it, who knows whether anybody is complying with it, whether it’s actually being implemented?

And so for that reason, we think and the President himself thinks it’s an extraordinarily high priority that we find ways, and reasonable ways, pragmatic ways, effective ways to verify international arms control treaties. So it comes from the President himself. But certainly there was some hard work done on what that would mean for the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. There will have to be some continuing work done. I mentioned earlier that there are many technological challenges, but at the same time there have been many technological advances in terms of how we can do verification of arms control treaties that involve fissile materials.

And I’ve just completed negotiation of the New START Treaty, as many of you know, and we looked there as well for new approaches, new procedures that would help us to do a better job than we have been able to do in the past. So I think it’s a high commitment from the very top of this Administration, and that’s what makes a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty that is verifiable a true goal of policy for this Administration.

QUESTION: Hello, George (inaudible) daily news, and I hope this question wasn’t asked already, but I got caught in the security.


QUESTION: So does the U.S. have – last year the U.S. voted in favor and was a co-sponsor, if I’m not mistaken, on the Japanese draft on the elimination of nuclear weapons in the First Committee, and I was wondering if that’s going to happen again and if you’re going to be an original co-sponsor this time or what the U.S. intentions are on that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Wow, that’s really insider baseball. We are talking to the Japanese. As you know, we’ve been – as you’ve mentioned, we’ve been favorably disposed in the past and we would very much like to work with them co-sponsoring this resolution as well. So we’re discussing it with them at the present time.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) which is of great interest for my Russian subscribers, please. My name is Vladimir (inaudible). I’m with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. Would you please tell me, are there any chances for the START treaty to be ratified this year by the Senate? And what, in your opinion, are the major obstacles?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Absolutely yes. And in fact, President Obama has laid out as a goal getting the New START Treaty ratified and on its way to entering into force by the end of this year, by the end of 2010. The reasons, I think, that chances are good is that we’ve worked very hard over the summer to do all our homework. On behalf of the Senate, your readers and listeners might be interested that we had a big stack of questions to answer. We answered about 900 questions for the Senate and also had 18 hearings and now four big briefings, so we have been very thorough in our efforts, but we’ve had many questions and comments coming our way because it has been many, many years since a big nuclear arms control treaty was ratified.

Actually, the Senate – just a technical detail – the Senate gives its advice and consent, and it is the President of the United States who actually ratifies the treaty. But we’re in the process of getting the Senate advice and consent at the present time.

So essentially it has been a very good process. Oh, I just wanted to mention that the last major treaty, the START treaty, was ratified in 1992. It so happens it was October 1, 1992, so it was 18 years ago since we’ve had a very large, complicated nuclear arms treaty to ratify. And of course, in those years, many senators are new and many staff members are new. And I think it’s actually very healthy that we have such great interest from our Senate colleagues and spent a lot of time working with them over this past summer.

But on the 16th of September, we had a good vote out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The vote was 14 to 4 in favor of the New START Treaty and the Democratic majority was joined by three senators from the Republican Party. So it was truly a bipartisan effort, and that gets back to a point that my boss, Hillary Clinton, has made time and time and time again, that the tradition of these arms control treaties is that they are major bipartisan efforts with very high votes, parties on both sides of the spectrum joining in the vote. And so we are hoping that we will have the same kind of vote, which was the vote for the START treaty, 95 to 0 against. We’re looking for that kind of vote this time around as well. We’ll see.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: It will be in the lame duck session, yes. It’s actually very interesting that major legislation in our system does get passed during the lame duck sessions, so I – that’s why I say we have a very good opportunity to work with the Senate and get it done by the end of the year.

QUESTION: Hi, Dan Hernandez from the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper. I also got stuck in security, so I’m sorry if you already –


QUESTION: The FMCT is deadlocked, as you were saying, and there were some reports that the U.S. would be open to small group negotiations or maybe even trying to negotiate outside the CD on FMCT agreement. Is that something that the U.S. is open to or – and is that something that you will discuss here in the First Committee?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. If you haven’t had a chance to see my speech yet, I really urge everybody to get a hold of the copy of it. We probably have some copies around here to give to you. But the key point is that our top priority is to get the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty negotiated in the Conference on Disarmament. We did have a couple questions about this earlier. Just for your information, there’s obviously great interest among this crew.

But we really think that the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty should be part of the CD legacy. We had the Comprehensive Test Ban and the CWC all negotiated as part of the CD system, so we would like to see that tradition continue. It’s a great multilateral organization, but it has been deadlocked, just as you said, for many years now and our patience is running out. So we need to look, I think, very carefully at what we can do to get the process jumpstarted in the CD, but at the same time we need to start looking at some other options. And I’m not ready to tell you today exactly what those options may be, but we are certainly ready and willing to consider other options out there, and we’ll be talking to them with other countries who are here for the First Committee meeting.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. Well, as I mentioned, that’s something that Secretary Clinton mentioned last May when she came up here and spoke to the NPT Review Conference. So it is certainly a continuing priority of this Administration. We’ve taken the position that we need to get START ratified and entered into force, but in the meantime – I’ve used the word “homework” several times in talking about our work on our treaties, but in the meantime we’re doing important homework to get ready for moving next to the CTBT. And that involves a lot of technical work.

There’s a very interesting facet of the CTBT ratification. Our ratification process was not successful in 1999. I know many of you know that. But in the interim years, we’ve had over a decade now of opportunity to improve the international monitoring system and build up the international monitoring system that was really not in place yet in 1999. And so our views is that the overall verification capabilities for the CTBT is now tremendously enhanced compared to where it was in 1999. The CTBTO has been doing a great job at that, and in addition to which our own national capabilities for verifying the CTBT have improved.

And so in terms of the story that we have to tell our Senate, it’s a very good story. There’s been great improvement over the last decade, and I think we have a good case to make.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GOTTEMOELLER: Well, I’m thinking that sometime in the coming year we’ll be looking at it, but I can’t tell you for sure. As I said, our goal and our priority has been getting START entered into force.

And just a small, again, technical detail for those of you who are interested, once we exchange instruments of ratification on the New START Treaty, that does not mean, boom, we start into implementation immediately. That starts a 60-day clock rolling and so that’s a preparatory period to get the inspectors ready to go and also it’s when we exchange data and get in place all that is necessary to begin implementation of the treaty. So you may think, oh, they exchange instruments of ratification at the end of the year and 1st of January they’ll be having inspections start up, but actually it’s a period of about 60 days. So I am hopeful that nevertheless in the first quarter of 2011 we can again begin to have inspections under the New START Treaty with Russians coming here to the United States and U.S. inspectors going to the Russian Federation.

Anything else? One more question? No? Well, thank you all very, very much. I appreciate your time and getting through the phalanx downstairs, and I do hope we’ll be improving rather quickly. I’ll be speaking to my UN colleagues and friends about that. So thanks very much for coming this morning.