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Transcript of Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller
January 28, 2011

Rose Gottemoeller

Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller

U.S. Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance

Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy

Permanent Representative, Conference on Disarmament and

U.S. Special Representative for Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Issues

January 27, 2011

Rose Gottenmoeller: Thank you very much, David, and thank you all for coming this morning. I’m sorry to be a few minutes late. It’s been a busy morning already.

We felt it was very important to come and open this session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and do so with a great emphasis, first of all, on our support for the work of the CD historically, for the profound influence it has had on disarmament and arms control as well as the non-proliferation agenda.

I remarked in my speech on the many important regimes that it has provided for in the results of negotiations conducted either in the CD or in its predecessor organization — the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — all were negotiated thanks to the environment provided by the Conference on Disarmament or its predecessor organization.

My call this morning was for this organization to get back to work. Unfortunately, we have seen its work stalled in the period since I left, having addressed the Plenary on Disarmament in June of 2009. You may recall that a program of work was adopted in May of 2009 and in the intervening period that program of work has unfortunately stalled. So we are concerned, as I said in my remarks this morning, that the CD if it does not get back to work will wither on the vine.

We want to give a big boost to its work. Our priority is for a negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty to begin here in the Conference on Disarmament, and we are resolved during this CD session to do everything we can to ensure that that goal is achieved. We are committed to providing not only the full support of Ambassador Kennedy and our delegation here, but by my presence here you see that we are committed at a high level to this occurring. I know President Obama and my boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, fully support this goal.

So we are pressing hard and hope that we can get going on the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, as well as very serious discussions of the other items that are on the conference’s agenda.

I think with that I will throw the floor open to your questions unless Ambassador Kennedy would like to add a word.

Ambassador Kennedy: No. We are just delighted to have not just such a senior official to come out and open our session today, but in particular to have Assistant Secretary Gottemoeller back here in Geneva where she led our effort along with her Russian counterpart to negotiate the New START Treaty, and to get the word out that again, after the Duma’s passage, the Federation Council has done it. So I’m particularly honored to have the lady who’s responsible for 50 percent of that achievement here with us in Geneva today. Thank you very much.

Press: Could you please elaborate more on the reasons why formal negotiations on the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) haven’t started here yet in Geneva?

Rose Gottemoeller: There is a great deal of support among the vast majority of the delegations here in Geneva. A single country has been basically concerned about the start of negotiations and has been standing in the way of launching negotiations.

I made a very strong point this morning and I wanted to also underscore that message for this group.

We see negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty best conducted in the Conference on Disarmament because the rules of procedure of the conference, the consensus rule in particular, guarantee that the interests of all states participating are fully supported. If a country in negotiation of the FMCT does not see its interests being supported, then there is of course full opportunity within the context of the CD not to join up with the final consensus.

Every country, of course, makes decisions about joining in an arms control treaty based upon calculations of its national interest. We just saw that, of course, in negotiation of the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia. Both of our countries had a very clear sense that the deal was in our national interests and we were willing to pursue it to its conclusion.

So I do think that all countries should feel confident that if we begin negotiations of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty here in the Conference on Disarmament, that they will have full opportunity to ensure that their interests are well represented. So I did want to stress that.

Frankly, I’m a bit puzzled as to why the blockage.

Press: Would it be a possibility to just go ahead without this country, I guess it’s Pakistan, but to start negotiations without this government. One country blocking the negotiations of 64 others, probably there are better ways.

Secondly, what about the Iranians? Can you elaborate on their position? Could it be that they sort of hide behind the Pakistanis and are quite happy that you haven’t started yet?

A/S Gottemoeller: Let me stress, I do want to underscore again for this group that our absolute first priority is on launching negotiations of a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament.

I mentioned in my remarks this morning that we will work as hard as we can, both in plenary session and in formal discussions here in the Palais, bringing our technical experts and consulting with any delegation about the importance of the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty and what its technical aspects would be. So we are very keen to get a serious discussion going here in the CD. But it would not yet be formal negotiations. It does require a consensus in order to launch formal negotiations.

If we are not able to accomplish that, and I think many delegations feel this way, patience will run out and delegations will be looking for other options to pursue negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. But as far as launch of the negotiations here in the CD, it does require a consensus.

Ambassador Kennedy: If I might, you mentioned Iran. I was going to say that we would certainly leave it to Iran to comment on its own policies, of course. I would simply note that they have supported — They supported 1864, the Program of Work including FMCT; they certainly reiterated that commitment to FMCT negotiations in the NPT Review Conference Final Document. So it’s a matter of record that they have supported FMCT negotiations. But I won’t go further than that, and I will of course respect that they should speak for themselves.

Press: Madame if you negotiated a New START Treaty and this treaty is now ratified by both sides, the next logical step would be the negotiations of the tactical nuclear weapons. There is some [inaudible]. Would you explain what are the interests of the United States? Do you want to negotiate [inaudible] tactical nuclear weapons or a reduction? And what are the hopes for this?

A/S Gottemoeller: Let me take on this question. The question was concerning the next step in strategic arms reductions and nuclear arms reductions overall now that the New START Treaty is finishing its ratification process in both Russia and the United States. Let me just say how much we welcome the ratification process in the Russian State Duma and also in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian legislature. They completed their process yesterday and we welcome that very much. I understand that President Medvedev was here at Davos yesterday and spoke about how he hopes when he gets back to Moscow that the papers will already be on his desk to sign.

Of course we are all hoping for entry into force of the New START Treaty as quickly as possible, so I think it is a very positive step that the ratification process is now wending its way to completion.

Now that the Senate has completed its work and the Russian Duma and Federation Council have completed their work, then the Presidents must sign the proper paperwork and there will be an exchange of instruments of ratification. So there are a few more steps to go forward before the treaty enters into force. But once the instruments of ratification are exchanged then it will enter into force immediately at that point.

As far as next steps are concerned, President Obama spoke to this even in Prague last April 8, 2010 when the New START Treaty was signed. He said at that time that we will continue with a step by step process, further reducing strategic and non-strategic — so that’s another way of saying tactical nuclear weapons — strategic and non-strategic tactical nuclear weapons, also including non-deployed nuclear weapons. That is weapons that are held in storage facilities, for example.

So President Obama, even when the New START Treaty was signed, spoke about getting on with the next stage of reductions.

I will note for you that the preamble to the New START Treaty calls for continuing step-by-step reductions in nuclear weapons leading eventually to also a multilateral approach. So we do see next steps coming.

I will also just mention the Senate itself was very interested in what the next steps will be. They expressed concern in their Resolution of Ratification for the New START Treaty that Russia does have a large number of tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons and they expressed concern, even handing us a task saying we would like you to talk to the Russians about beginning new negotiations within one year of entry into force of the New START Treaty.

So it is definitely a task that is before us. We have already started very intense preparation in Washington for the next stage of arms reductions. We will expect to pursue those once New START enters into force. So yes, it is a very serious subject and one about which there is intensive preparation work already underway.

Press: You just mentioned that if the CD is blocked you have to think of other options. What kind of other options are you considering outside the CD?

A/S Gottemoeller: Let me just place full emphasis and priority today on my main message which is to launch negotiations this year of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty in the Conference on Disarmament. We vastly prefer that option. It is our absolute first priority. I don’t wish to speculate on any other options at this point.

Press: You partially answered my question, which relates to the CD and the sense of urgency on this. Do you have a timeframe? You just mentioned one year now in the CD. Would you have a timeframe beyond which you don’t think you could go?

A/S Gottemoeller: Again, I would just remark that many, not only the United States delegation, but many delegations have commented on the theme that patience is running out. I understand that the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, in his remarks yesterday, mentioned well let’s see what we can do this year. So I think that is a kind of general timeframe. Again, I don’t want to place any specific deadlines on activity, but I think we should pay close attention not only to the views of the many delegations that spoke up even this morning, but also the Secretary General in this regard.

Press: A more general question, perhaps, on nuclear issues. How do you see efforts of containing the spread or the proliferation? Is it working? And new actors such as Turkey and Brazil tried to negotiate with Iran. It did not work. Does that show that there’s a limit also to negotiations or to at least involving new countries in this process?

A/S Gottemoeller: Let me just say and we have had now some very good consultations with Brazil. Brazil is playing an important role, I would say, overall helping to move forward the agenda of non-proliferation, and the United States has really valued the opportunity to work directly with Brazil on a bilateral basis on non-proliferation issues overall.

The other point I would like to make in this regard is that we did have a very successful, in my view, Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May of 2010. If you compare it, if you juxtapose it against the previous 2005 Review Conference when there was no consensus reached and the Review Conference broke up in disarray, this 2010 Review Conference was a great, I think, victory. Particularly the fact that we came out of it not only with a consensus among the signatories of the NPT, but also a program, an Action Plan, with specific tasks along all three pillars of the NPT — peaceful nuclear uses, non-proliferation and disarmament. All three pillars supported by a number of tasks in the Action Plan to strengthen them between now and the next Review Conference in 2015.

So I do believe that it’s a really signal accomplishment what happened last May in New York. For that reason I believe that we have a good opportunity now, and that the non-proliferation regime overall is in a kind of strengthening phase at the moment. We do need to keep the momentum going. The accomplishments we’ve had this year on the part of the United States and Russian Federation completing the New START Treaty, the meeting that President Obama convened last April in Washington on nuclear security issues, and that has the goal of strengthening the physical protection of fissile materials all over the world in the next four years and ensuring that they’re put under better protection control and accounting. Those are the kinds of practical goals that I think we need to be really paying attention to and trying as much as we can with all the tasking that came out of the NPT to achieve some practical results.

So I hope that we can use the momentum that was developed in 2010 really to push this agenda forward. But I do think that frankly, the NPT regime is in a better place than it was prior to the NPT Review Conference last May.

Press: Could you tell us what the U.S. is doing to address Pakistan’s concerns about this asymmetry vis-à-vis India and how perhaps you’re talking to China about some of these issues to try to get the Pakistanis on board?

A/S Gottemoeller: I will say that we are talking to a lot of countries about how to move things forward. It’s no secret that the P5 has great interest in this so we are working with our P5 colleagues as well.

I remarked this morning that we are ready to work with all of the interested delegations here at the CD, whether it’s expert discussions to try to help people to understand what the major issues are with regard to a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. In some cases it’s been a number of years since people have really focused on exactly what a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty would mean, what the definitions are, what the overall scope would be. So I mentioned the notion of some very solid intellectual homework and I think that’s important right now to focus on that.

But yes, we have been talking to a number of delegations about how to move things forward and I for one hope that Pakistan will take these as serious efforts to bear in mind what their concerns are, but also to advance what was a consensus decision in 1864 of this entire organization. We will see what the next weeks and months bring. But I remain hopeful that we can really get moving and get things off the ground here in the CD.

Ambassador Kennedy: I would also again call attention to the fact that in terms of our dialogue with Pakistan, Secretary Clinton herself had inaugurated a wide-ranging strategic dialogue with Pakistan in which, for example, our Under Secretary Ellen Tauscher is responsible for one of the sub-groups within that. So indeed, we certainly do discuss the full range of strategic issues with Pakistan on a very comprehensive, high-level basis.

Press: Madame, you mentioned the success of the last NPT Review Conference. [Inaudible] the success was an engagement of the P5 to create or to head to create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East with the participation of Israel naturally. Since this time, since last May, something has happened in this field?

A/S Gottemoeller: Actually what was agreed at the NPT Review Conference is that countries would look to organize a conference on this issue in the Middle East, and work as a first step to do that. With no prejudice to further decisions or further results in that regard. So that is what is going on now. This year will be the focus on the conference, the Middle East Conference, with full participation, of course.

Press: And when the conference will be?

A/S Gottemoeller: That is yet to be decided.

Ambassador Kennedy: Nominally, again 2012, of course, is the year, but I’d just say that in support of what Assistant Secretary Gottemoeller said is that, as we’ve always made clear, the only I think way to ensure that this conference takes place is to ensure that conditions allow for all the parties to feel comfortable coming to sit down at the table. So it’s an ongoing, I think process. But there will certainly be issues like where it will be held, who will be the facilitators that are still out there, and I think parties are consulting on those.

Press: You mentioned the Middle East just now. How would a destabilized Egypt affect your plans in the Middle East? And would the American government to what extent is the American government right now willing to prop up the government in Cairo.

A/S Gottemoeller: I’m simply not prepared to comment on that situation. It’s not in my job jar, as we like to say.

Press: Regarding the FMCT, would the emergence of another nuclear weapon state, suspected nuclear weapon state, hamper attempts to get the FMCT off the ground?

A/S Gottemoeller: We see that there’s a great possibility to negotiate the FMCT here in the Conference on Disarmament, especially because it does have such a very broad membership of countries who are nuclear weapon states under the NPT, that possess nuclear weapons outside of the NPT, and also produce fissile materials overall and so have understanding of these issues. So I think the CD is a very appropriate venue for these negotiations because of its very broad membership. That is one of the reasons why we think it’s such a high priority to focus on the CD as the place where such negotiation should take place.

Press: May I ask you on the project of an international fuel bank, as far as I know you support this idea. Could you please elaborate on the progress on this issue?

A/S Gottemoeller: Again, this is not an issue about which I am a special expert, but I do understand that the International Fuel Bank Project in Vienna has been moving along in a positive direction. I’ve taken note of recent comments out of the IAEA and its Board of Governors that the Fuel Bank is making progress. I think that is all to the good.

The U.S. government does support this effort as one way to ensure that countries who are embarking on programs of acquiring peaceful civil nuclear energy programs have a number, a layer of options in terms of acquiring nuclear fuel for their civil nuclear program. So we see it as a very positive project.

Press: I’d just like to push you on FMCT. How long do you wait? Other missions have called this “make or break” time. Do you think it’s make or break time?

A/S Gottemoeller: If you haven’t had a chance to read my remarks this morning yet, I would urge you to have a look at them. The tenor is one of let’s give it a big push, absolute top priority here in the Conference on Disarmament, but our patience won’t last forever.

Thank you for coming this morning.