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Ambassador Robert Wood: Statement at the Conference on Disarmament
August 13, 2020

Thank you, Mr. President.  On behalf of the United States, may I extend our congratulations to you on your assumption of the CD Presidency.  In these unprecedented times, we rely more than ever on good leadership to guide us through our important tasks ahead.  We recognize this places a fair amount of pressure on you and the Belarusian Mission, which holds the final CD presidency of the 2020 session, but we are certain we are in good hands.  Please know that you have our support.

As we look forward through mid-September, this body has two responsibilities:  to finalize a 2020 report and to prepare a First Committee draft resolution conveying the CD’s annual report to the 75th UN General Assembly.  These two tasks must be completed in a limited number of hybrid meetings, as the world continues to grapple with a global pandemic that has to date caused over 700,000 deaths and over 20 million infections.

For health and safety reasons, as we continue to face the global COVID-19 threat, my delegation urges that we convene as few in-person meetings as possible.  To limit our in-person meetings, yet still accomplish our two tasks, will require compromises, concessions, and flexibility.  We need to be realistic and practical if we are to be successful under these unprecedented circumstances.  As such, my delegation strongly recommends that we pursue a technical report and CD resolution that are as minimalist as possible, avoiding any undue controversial entanglements, and that we adopt them via silence procedure.

Now is simply not the time to tackle entrenched or intractable substantive issues.  In 2021, with the ambition of a vaccine, improved therapies, and successful containment of the virus, we hope to continue where we left off in March 2020.  Let’s not forget, the CD came very close to adopting a Program of Work this year, and my delegation looks forward to reinvigorating that momentum when the time is right.

Until then, Mr. President, my delegation agrees with your July 30 statement that, while the CD may essentially be on hiatus due to the pandemic, the disarmament discourse has not lost its relevance.  In fact, U.S. – Russia discussions in this area have continued and are ongoing.  Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Ambassador Marshall Billingslea and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov had productive discussions in June on the future of arms control, followed by working group meetings in July on mutually agreed upon topics related to the future of arms control.  Concurrently a Space Security Exchange was organized on July 27, where senior U.S. civilian and military experts with space policy and operational experience engaged with Russian counterparts in the first bilateral space dialogue in seven years.  The two sides exchanged views on current and future space threats, policies, strategies, and doctrine, and discussed a forward-looking agenda to promote safe, professional, and sustainable activities in space.  Of equal importance, the meeting included more than two full days of detailed discussion to identify options for future trilateral arms control.

In addition, the United States has been working virtually with the other members of the Creating an Environment of Nuclear Disarmament Working Group to advance our informal frank dialogue on improving the security environment to facilitate progress towards nuclear disarmament.  The CEND Working Group has produced programs of work for its three subgroups and plans to begin substantive discussions next month.

Next week, Ambassador Billingslea will once again lead a U.S. delegation to meet with our Russian counterparts to advance the progress already made in our expert Working Group discussions.  We hope to achieve greater understanding between our two sides on a number of issues.  Of course, to realize a truly comprehensive agreement on the future of nuclear arms control, the People’s Republic of China needs to show transparency and a willingness to reduce the risk of a destabilizing nuclear arms race by bringing its military and diplomatic officials to the table for meaningful talks.  At this point, Beijing has refused for decades to share any significant information about its plans, its capabilities, its intentions, regarding its move to a triad of delivery vehicles, a launch on warning posture, and exploration of low-yield nuclear weapons.  China has an obligation under the NPT to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.

The United States has extended an open invitation to the People’s Republic of China to join in trilateral arms control and risk reduction discussions, and has made clear the need for all three countries to pursue arms control negotiations in good faith.  To date, China has flatly rejected any invitation from the United States to provide more clarity and transparency into their nuclear doctrine and related nuclear activities.  In fact, China continues to pursue an expansion of its nuclear arsenal, which will heighten nuclear tensions rather than diminish them and threatens to stimulate a new, unnecessary, and destabilizing arms race among the three largest nuclear powers on earth.  And the other nuclear-armed states, like India and Pakistan, are also unlikely to stand still in the face of a completely unconstrained Chinese nuclear build-up.  As President Trump said recently, and I quote, “China is surging” in its nuclear weapons buildup.  China will at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile by the end of the decade.  This is the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in China’s history, which is all the more alarming when viewed in the context of China’s other actions.  In a recent speech delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo in California, he addressed the Chinese Communist Party’s designs for hegemony – from its unlawful claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea and its campaign of bullying to control them, to a Chinese military that grows stronger and more menacing as it remains unchecked.

The United States recognizes that all parties to future arms control agreements will bring different perspectives and objectives to the negotiating table and will surely have disagreements, but we are confident these can be resolved in good faith negotiations.  It is time for dialogue and diplomacy between the three biggest nuclear weapons powers on how to prevent a new arms race.  As NPT parties, each State is obligated to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.

If China wants to claim to be a responsible power, it needs to act like one.  As part of those responsibilities, China must engage meaningfully in nuclear arms control.  Every CD Member State, indeed, Mr. President, every nation on Earth, should insist, as a matter of international peace and security, that China engage on nuclear arms control, transparency, and confidence building with the United States and the Russian Federation without further delay.

When discussing ongoing security issues that have not diminished during the COVID-19 crisis, I would be remiss not to raise Iran’s ongoing destabilizing behavior.  Iran’s nuclear, ballistic missile, and military programs continue to pose a grave threat to international peace and security.  For months, Iran has denied access to IAEA inspectors and refused to answer IAEA questions about possible undeclared nuclear material and activities.  In June, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution calling on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA without further delay.  In doing so, the international community made clear that full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA is the only path forward for Iran.  Iran’s safeguards agreements require it to declare nuclear material and nuclear related activities to the IAEA and provide IAEA inspectors with access for verification.  Iran’s intentional failure to declare such nuclear material or provide access when required, would be a clear violation of its safeguards agreement required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Further delay, denial, or deception by Iran regarding the IAEA’s essential nuclear verification work is a cause for grave concern, and will further isolate the Iranian regime.  The United States remains committed to denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon.  In light of Iran’s past nuclear weapons program, it is imperative that Iran verifiably demonstrate that it has permanently abandoned all such work.  The international community must speak clearly and with one voice:  full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA and compliance with the NPT is the only path forward for Iran.

Mr. President, it is clear the world continues to face significant challenges.  Threats to global peace and security have not diminished under the specter of this debilitating COVID-19 pandemic.  The CD has a role to play, and my delegation looks forward to resuming our efforts here in Geneva when the time is right.

In the meantime, we are committed to completing our tasks at hand and urge you to consider the adoption of a minimalist technical report and resolution, adopted by silence procedure.

Thank you, Mr. President.