Interview with Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter

March 12, 2004
Wade Boese and Miles Pomper

ACT: The bureau that you're in charge of, the Bureau of Verification and Compliance, became operational in February 2000. Could you explain to our readers what the bureau does, its responsibilities, and so on?

DeSutter: The Verification and Compliance Bureau has three primary missions. One, we assess other nations' compliance with their arms control and nonproliferation agreements and commitments. We provide those assessments on a day-to-day basis within the department. We also prepare the president's annual report to Congress on adherence to and compliance with agreements. We're a little late with the next version of the publication, but it is something that we prepare. We try to make sure it is a high-quality product that includes rigorous assessment of all the available intelligence weighed against the existing obligations and commitments.

The second mission that we have is that when arms control or nonproliferation agreements are being considered, proposed, negotiated, we try to make sure that we are involved early on to make the agreement or commitment as verifiable as possible. A lot of times people think that depends on whether or not the agreement has onsite inspection measures. Actually, very often the difference between a more or less verifiable agreement can be in how it's worded because these agreements or commitments are expressed in words. Some words are easier to understand so that everybody understands what the commitment is. We also will work closely with the intelligence community to make sure that we have the capabilities to monitor the agreement, and will try to structure an agreement so that we can enhance the intelligence capabilities that we have to give us the data that we are looking for.

Third, we are the principal policy liaison to the intelligence community for verification and compliance matters. That means we work closely with the intelligence community. We participate in their interagency groups. We look at various collection systems to make sure that we are retaining capabilities that we need for verification, and that-as we look into the future-we are going after the types of capabilities that will make us the most effective in our verification mission. So those are the three principle functions of the bureau.

ACT: Does the bureau monitor weapons programs of states that are not party to various arms control treaties?

DeSutter: We are mindful of them. Our report, generally speaking, does not include those, although we do participate in the review of activities for sanctions purposes. There may be applicable sanctions laws for those countries, and so we'll be mindful of those, as well. In addition, should there be a future commitment or agreement with those countries, we want to have been monitoring their activities and understand where they are.

ACT: What treaties and initiatives is the bureau currently verifying?

DeSutter: First and foremost, we are working to verify the Libyan commitment to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction programs and missiles of the range of those addressed in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). That's been our primary focus since December when Libya made its commitment. But we also focus on the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the CFE [Conventional Armed Forces in Europe] Treaty and associated documents, the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Limited Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies, START, the Moscow Treaty, the INF Treaty, the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, and PNI [Presidential Nuclear Initiatives initiated by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin].

ACT: What about the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)? Are you involved in that activity at all?

DeSutter: We are not very involved in PSI. That's primarily led out of Undersecretary [of State for Arms Control and International Security John] Bolton's office with the assistance of the Nonproliferation Bureau.

ACT: How exactly do you verify these arms control agreements? In other words, what are the tools that you use to gather information on other countries' weapons programs? Without disclosing state secrets, of course.

DeSutter: We review all-source intelligence on the activities in question. We may notice the intelligence in raw reporting ourselves or the intelligence community may give us a heads-up that there is activity of concern. We will then examine the relevant obligations. If it rises to the level of a concern, we will begin drafting an analysis that probably will eventually make it into the annual noncompliance report. If there is any inspection data, we will review that as well.

ACT: Speaking of the annual noncompliance report, as you alluded to before, since the Bush administration has come into office only one such report has been submitted. Why is that?

When I got here there was a draft report that had been not completed. We went through it one more time and I analyzed it to see what improvements needed to be made in it. That report was submitted in June of last year. That report had always been prepared at the secret level with one or two annexes at a higher classification. It was my view that what was needed was to make sure that the report included all the relevant intelligence. Most of the relevant intelligence, especially in the proliferation area, is above the classification that the report was previously prepared at. We undertook new reviews of the intelligence across the board so it's a pretty comprehensive report. [The latest version] is in the clearance process. Frankly, we are a very small bureau with only a few people that work very hard and a lot of our attention has been focused on Libya rather than getting the report done.

ACT: What period will this new report cover? The previous report covers December '00 to December '01.

DeSutter: There is a cut-off date, but what I have told people is that we need to be up-to-date. For example, clearly we need to update the draft that we have written with the information we've gotten from Libya.

ACT: You said that the classification level of the report is going up. Is there going to be an unclassified version released?

DeSutter: There will still be an unclassified version. But whereas before the analysis was primarily done at the secret level, which means you couldn't include all of the available intelligence, it was only that data that was going to enlighten the unclassified findings. Now what we're trying to do is to increase the amount of information that's being used to develop the findings. The obligations are still going to stay the same, but the data that's going to be the basis of those findings will be enhanced. I think it will make it an even more rigorous report. What we've lost in timeliness will be made up for in quality.

ACT: When do you expect this latest version to be submitted?

DeSutter: I am hoping it will be submitted this summer.

ACT: One tool available to the United States to compel other states to comply with their treaty obligations is sanctions. This administration has imposed sanctions on foreign entities at a significantly greater rate than its predecessor.


ACT: Why is that?

DeSutter: Because a) we believe that the laws exist for a reason and that they should be fully implemented, and b) because we believe that we need to change the cost-benefit analysis of proliferators. We need to impose costs-the costs available in the form of sanctions laws-like every other tool we have available to us to try to stem the tide of proliferation.

ACT: And is there evidence to suggest that these sanctions are effective?

DeSutter: I believe there is. The sanctions that existed on Libya, for example, were certainly a significant element of the Libyan decision to give up their weapons of mass destruction programs. Colonel Moammar Gaddafi last week made it pretty clear that it wasn't that anyone else had imposed sanctions, it was that [Libyan] activities had brought the sanctions upon them. Those were clearly costly [to Libya], and removing those sanctions was a goal that they were seeking. In other cases, it's fair to assume that sanctions are having some effect.

At the same time, there are some foreign entities that have been sanctioned multiple times. It seems like they are not getting the hint. Does that really suggest that sanctions can be effective, if you have the same entities doing the same things over and over again?

It means that we have not been effective enough with regard to that particular entity. On the other hand, we are learning in the Libya case [that] their chemical program was impeded because it was difficult to obtain the best equipment. When the equipment came and wasn't what they needed, they really didn't have a complaint mechanism. So, what we do by these sanctions is we force countries into less effective acquisition routes. You do have the exception of the Khan network, which was selling pretty good stuff. But for the most part, you are forcing countries to do sub-optimal acquisition.

ACT: And that's what you consider an effective sanction? That's how you would measure the effectiveness?

The other measure is, does the country under sanctions understand that there is a cost associated with doing this? Countries have to make a choice between trading with the United States and trading with countries of proliferation concern.

The state that has had the most entities sanctioned by the administration is China. Over the past couple of months, China has initiated efforts to join both the MTCR and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Is China's nonproliferation record good enough for it to join these two voluntary export control regimes?

That's under internal discussion within the U.S. government.

ACT: Can you give me some sense of what kind of steps China might need to take to prove that it is responsible enough to join these regimes?

DeSutter: I don't think that would be appropriate for me at this point.

ACT: With past Chinese proliferation, is it your assessment that it is one of the government not [effectively] enforcing its export controls, or is it one of the government turning its head?

DeSutter: Well, whichever it is, we have not seen a total cessation of the nature that we'd like.

ACT: In the wake of the recent Khan revelations, the United States has not imposed any sanctions on Pakistan. Why is that?

A.Q. Khan has been retired from the Pakistani government for some time from his major post. While I do not want to get into any detail, he certainly has been acting in his own interests rather than in the interests of the Pakistani government.

ACT: But as you recall, the president in his February 11th speech urged other states to get tough on proliferators. Does the US decision not to impose sanctions on Pakistan undermine the president's message?

DeSutter: I don't think so. I suppose others could have a different view. I don't think we can expect A.Q. Khan to be doing any more proliferation.

ACT: What about other members of his network? Is the United States confident that the network is now shut down? What steps are being taken to verify that the Khan network is no longer operating?

DeSutter: I'm really not in a position to discuss that.

ACT: Does the recent experience with Pakistan suggest that the United States should work harder to get its friends and allies, such as Pakistan and Israel, to grant greater transparency to their weapons programs, instead of simply focusing on states hostile to the United States?

DeSutter: I don't see how that follows from the Khan piece, but others might have different views.

Well, apparently the judgment was made that we didn't have a full understanding of what was going on with Khan's network until late in the game.

DeSutter: As the president noted in his [February 11] speech, Khan was producing equipment outside of Pakistan. Access to the Pakistani program wouldn't have necessarily given us insight into what was being produced in Malaysia.

ACT: Would access to these countries, though, provide us with greater confidence that they are not being used as a source for proliferators or that materials are not being diverted with or without their knowledge to potential proliferators?

DeSutter: Perhaps. I really would defer to my colleagues in the Nonproliferation Bureau.

ACT: Turning to Iran, what actions could Iran take to quell growing concerns about its nuclear program?

DeSutter: The primary step that Iran could take is to make a strategic commitment of the type Libya has made. That is: to give up its nuclear weapons program. Iran has not made such a decision.

Short of that, is ratifying and implementing the Additional Protocol sufficient for Iran to provide confidence that it is not illicitly pursuing nuclear weapons?

DeSutter: Let me point out that Libya had eliminated its nuclear weapons program prior to its adherence to the IAEA Additional Protocol this week. Iran can give up its nuclear weapons program independent of a decision to sign up to the Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol might be a good step, but a better step is giving up its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Given that, if Iran does comply with the Additional Protocol, should it be allowed to possess enrichment and reprocessing capabilities?

DeSutter: My view is that Iran, by its actions, has given up the [right] to be treated as a trustworthy state.

ACT: What's the legal basis if you were going to try to deny these capabilities to Iran?

DeSutter: Article IV of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty provides for cooperation in peaceful nuclear programs so long as a country is in compliance with Article II. It will be difficult for Iran to give confidence that it is complying with Article II, particularly in the absence of a strategic commitment to do the type of forthcoming disclosure that we have seen from Libya.

ACT: What would that strategic commitment look like?

DeSutter: Libya serves as a good model. The Libyans said, "We are no longer going to have a nuclear weapons program." They invited the United States and the United Kingdom in. They gave the United States and the United Kingdom access to all facilities that we requested to see. They were willing to permit any tests that we wanted to conduct. They were willing to have their centrifuge program removed. They were willing to convert the Tajoura reactor from HEU [highly enriched uranium] to LEU [low enriched uranium]. They gave up their entire centrifuge program. Their transparency thus far has been complete. They also had in the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. My impression has been that they have given the IAEA access to whatever the IAEA asked for access to. There have not been time limits on how long the IAEA could be present. They have been very forthcoming.

In the chemical weapons area, we assisted them in drafting their declaration to the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]. They had the OPCW technical secretariat come in. On one occasion they said, "You know, we really hadn't told the others that came before, but there are some other munitions we need to show you." They took us to a facility that we almost certainly would not have been able to identify independently and showed us the unfilled munitions there. That is transparency. That is the kind of access that we are given when a country has made a strategic commitment. They volunteer information.

Currently no international body exists to monitor and verify threats posed by biological weapons and missiles. Does your recent experience with Libya suggest that such bodies are needed or would be helpful?

DeSutter: No.

ACT: Could you expand on that?

DeSutter: I think that biological weapons are one of the areas where an international body would not be very helpful.

Why is that?

DeSutter: Because, for example, what we are doing in Libya is talking to them and looking around. They have said that U.S. and U.K. experts can go anywhere they want to go and talk to anyone they want to talk to. That is not the kind of access and regime that you are going to have in a negotiated onsite inspection protocol.

ACT: What about for missiles?

DeSutter: Well, [the Libyans] certainly have been willing to give up their Scud-Cs. We would have to think about the missile side. Missiles are certainly easier to verify than biological [weapons].

ACT: At the same time, there isn't an international prohibition on missiles, just supply-side restraints through MTCR.

DeSutter: That's true.

ACT: In the absence of such an international body, would you need to develop a norm against international missile possession?

DeSutter: Yeah.

Looking back at Libya retrospectively, can you identify areas in which the United States and the international community could have improved its monitoring of Libyan weapons activities?

DeSutter: That is something that we are going to have to give some additional thought to. I'm sure that the IAEA is examining that very question right now.

ACT: Are there any other lessons learned from the actual dismantlement of Libya's programs?

DeSutter: Not yet, in the following sense. Libya made its commitment December 19th. We had the first group of U.S. and U.K. experts on the ground January 20th. It is now only March 12th. In that period of time, we have removed the Scud-Cs, the uranium enrichment program, including the uranium hexafluoride, and many other things. They have destroyed all of their unfilled chemical munitions. They have consolidated all of their agent and precursors into a safer location. We have been very busy. So, we are at the stage now where we need to begin thinking about what the lessons learned are. We want to have lessons learned from this because we want Libya to be a model for other countries. What has been accomplished with regard to Libyan weapons of mass destruction (WMD) elimination is breathtaking. It's time for us to stop, catch our breath, think about what all this means, and how we can apply these lessons elsewhere.

ACT: The flip side of the question is that you cited Libya as a possible model for the Iranians. They've also been cited as a possible model for the North Koreans. Is Libya's particular situation different-its political and strategic situation-in ways that allowed it to make this choice that would make it more difficult for North Korea that has been locked in a 50-year conflict with South Korea or an Iran that is in a dangerous neighborhood to make those choices?

DeSutter: I think one key difference is that both the North Korean and the Iranian programs are further advanced than the Libyan program. So, in that sense, there would be more to eliminate, although Libya was moving out smartly on its nuclear program. It's still a little hard for me to say this out loud, but Gaddafi got it right when he said that their WMD programs made them less secure not more secure. Iran, for example, has an awful lot of potential. And should it give up its support of terrorism, should it give up its WMD programs, I can imagine tremendous movement in terms of how close the United States would want to be to Iran; the kind of trade and people-to-people contacts that would greatly benefit Iran. I cannot imagine any scenario in which that decision would hurt Iran's security rather than help it. The same stands for North Korea. I do not think that South Korea has any intention, nor does Japan, and nor does the United States, of launching an attack against North Korea. I cannot see any [North Korean] national security needs that are enhanced by the North Korean nuclear program. I can see an awful lot of national needs that it has that would be best served by making a strategic commitment to give up its weapons of mass destruction. Gaddafi made the right choice for the Libyan people. It would be good if the governments of North Korea and Iran made the right decision for their people.

Some commentators have suggested that UNMOVIC proved itself in Iraq, and that it should now be converted into, or used as a model for, a permanent international arms inspection corps. What do you think of that idea?

DeSutter: I don't know why we need a permanent UN arms inspection corps.

ACT: It wouldn't be useful in a situation if Iran or North Korea gave up their weapons programs?

DeSutter: Not in my view. The way the Libya process worked was just fine.

ACT: So that's a no on the permanent inspection body?

DeSutter: I think no would be good, but the last time I just said no you were not very pleased with the answer.

We did an interview a couple of days ago with [Iraq Survey Group lead inspector] David Kay. Dr. Kay said, "International inspection is even more important now than it ever was. The on-the-ground examination of what's going on is irreplaceable as to what it can do. And so we've got to find a way to be sure that that inspection is well-equipped and well-funded, organized, and with maximum access possible, rather than believe that sitting back some place staring through space, or even with domestic export control laws, that you're going to be able to stop it that way." What is your reaction to Dr Kay's comments?

DeSutter: I have tremendous respect for David Kay. He did hard work in Iraq. Part of my answer is that even in Libya, where they had made the commitment, there is no substitute. No number of inspectors is an adequate substitute for a firm commitment on the part of the government to yield its weapons program.

Is it enough to constrain a weapons program though?

What do you mean?

ACT: Is the presence of inspectors enough to constrain a weapons program where it does not develop into one that is a threat to its neighbors or other countries?

DeSutter: It probably depends on how long an illicit program may have been underway, and what's being inspected.

The United States has accused other states of violating their commitments under the CWC not to possess chemical weapons. The CWC has a provision that permits challenge inspections. Yet, the United States has not called for a challenge inspection. Why is that?

DeSutter: The first thing that we generally do is we'll use the Article IX bilateral consultation mechanism to try to get a better understanding of where a program is. I think there is a growing consensus at the OPCW that is more favorable to challenge inspections. I favor using the challenge inspection mechanism more readily. Because it has not been used in the past, it becomes increasingly difficult to use it. So the question is, what standard of proof do you want to have before you actually ask for a challenge inspection? If you believe that you better have a case where you're absolutely positive that you're going to find evidence of noncompliance during that challenge inspection, you're going to make it so that you don't exactly need a challenge inspection. I think that the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty model is a better model for how you want to regularize those sorts of things so that when you have a question or concern you go have a look under challenge inspection-type process without it being akin to a declaration of war.

When you say there's a greater consensus, does that mean other countries now share those views?

DeSutter: Yeah. It seemed that many of the European countries certainly thought that the challenge inspection process needed to be thought through.

Is that lack of support in the past been what's held up the challenge inspections?

DeSutter: I don't think that's been the only issue.

ACT: The latest arms reduction accord the United States negotiated with Russia, the Moscow Treaty, does not contain any new verification measures. How will the United States be able to verify that Russia is abiding by the terms of the accord?

DeSutter: We will be using our national technical means. We will also be using the provisions of START, which provides for inspections, dialogue with the Russians, and other activities.

ACT: START expires in 2009. Should the United States extend START so you have those verification mechanisms in place until the SORT implementation deadline of 2012.

DeSutter: I know some people feel strongly that that should be the case, but at that point we would be able to give it some thought. I don't see any problems at this point that would require us to do that.

ACT: One of the rationales used by the Bush administration to reject a proposed verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was that it would put at risk U.S. industry and defense secrets. How does the United States expect other states to grant access to their weapons and dual-use facilities if the United States is unwilling to do the same?

DeSutter: I don't think we expected other countries to open up their biological facilities under BWC protocol we rejected.

ACT: Another major verification problem right now is North Korea. Has the United States developed a model verification regime that it would require North Korea to submit to if it decides to give up its nuclear weapons program? And could you describe the key elements of such a regime?

DeSutter: It would be best if we discussed the elements of any possible verification regime with the other parties to the six-party talks first. But, obviously, the United States has given a lot of thought to the difficulties that we would face in verifying a North Korean commitment. Again, the single most important enhancement to a verification capability is a strategic commitment on the part of that country to genuinely give up its capabilities. If North Korea makes such a strategic commitment, the verification regime will be far easier to design and implement.

There are some that say that a verification regime isn't valuable if its not 100 percent verifiable. Is there anything that is 100 percent verifiable?

DeSutter: There is no-and I think probably never will be-a 100 percent verifiable agreement or commitment. What we have to try to understand is when is verification good enough? Generally, what we mean when we say verification is effective. The way you reach that determination is fairly complicated. There's no set equation, but there are a number of factors, including: What is the compliance record of the country that we are trying to verify? How difficult is it to hide those elements that we are trying to verify from either inspection or national technical means? How much risk does the United States put itself at, or its allies, if there is undetected cheating? Those are just some of the elements that we have to look at in determining whether verification is effective.

For example, if you have two parallel agreements, and one of the agreements was with the United Kingdom and one was with Iran, and they had the same words, you might decide that verification was [more] effective in the case of the United Kingdom with whom we have an open transparent partnership than Iran, which has a history of noncompliance with its arms control and nonproliferation agreements and commitments.

In our recent experience with Iraq, though, you have a situation where its compliance record wasn't very good. But now that we are in Iraq, we're not finding the materials that we thought they were hiding. So is that criteria [reliable]?

DeSutter: When the new Iraqi government is constituted, I suspect that any given commitment made by them in the arms control and nonproliferation area will be judged to be far more verifiable [than before] because we have been there. We know what the ground truth is. Hopefully, this will be a regime that is trustworthy. I would expect it to be an ally of ours. [In contrast,] Saddam Hussein had a history of cheating, of lying, and of using weapons of mass destruction. The pictures of what happened to the people at Halabja are horrendous. There is a picture of a woman holding her baby, trying to cover it and protect it from the gas that was killing them. That is the type of regime that that was. I think that like many people who looked at the intelligence before, there wasn't a night during [last year's] war where I wasn't hoping and praying that chemical and biological weapons wouldn't be used against our troops. Clearly, he had the intent. David Kay has borne that out. Clearly, Iraq had programs. David Kay has supported that. What have not been found are the [weapons] stockpiles that we were concerned about. If you are going to wait until you know that they have the stockpiles, you have changed the equation. Certainly our intelligence was off. But it was off on some things and not on others. Iraq had these programs. It had the intent. Thank God they weren't as far [along] as we thought. Thank God they didn't have the stockpiles we were concerned about. Yes, we need to make sure our intelligence is as robust and credible as it can possibly be, but thank God they didn't have the stockpiles we were afraid of.

ACT: What you seem to be saying is we only can be confident in verification when it's people that we're already allied with or friendly with, which are the people you don't need to verify.

DeSutter: No, no, no. I'm not saying those are the only people we can verify. I'm saying that the single element that makes verification easier is if it is someone that we have an ongoing record. As I said, one of the elements in assessing whether verification is effective is what is the compliance record of the country you are looking at? That is only one element. You can still have agreements with countries that you don't trust. Certainly when we signed the INF Treaty we did not have a tremendous trust of the Soviet Union. And in those cases, you are going to have to do more work, you are going to have to have more measures, you are going to have to be more careful. And hopefully, your intelligence capabilities are going to be up to the task because you are not going to be able to expect them in every case to be forthcoming about the nature of their program. What you are going to need is to have robust intelligence.

What happens though in the case of Iraq where your robust intelligence conflicts with what inspectors on the ground are saying?

DeSutter: You have to weigh both. And this is true of any intelligence you may not have as well. Sometimes an intelligence briefer will come here and say we have no evidence that "x" is occurring. Well, that is an interesting data point only if you believe that our intelligence capabilities are capable of telling us whether or not "x" is occurring. For example, if you're not collecting on something, the fact that you have no intelligence that tells you that that's happening isn't a very interesting data point. And one of the things that I said goes into an assessment of effective verification is what is it that you're trying to verify. If we had an onsite inspection regime that was looking for large phased array radars, I'd be pretty confident. If you have a verification regime that is looking at something that is really big and hard to hide, fine. As things get smaller, as things become more dual-use, then the verification challenge is going to grow. It doesn't mean it's impossible, it just means it's going to get more difficult. The effectiveness determination is critical. You have to be able to say: What is going on in this particular case? What are we looking for? What are our capabilities to look? What are their capabilities to hide? What are their inclinations and their history of hiding things? How can we put all of this together? What's our capability to respond in a timely fashion? What is the risk to us if there is undetected noncompliance? All of those factors have to be put together, there's no one single factor that's going to be the whole thing that you look at. You've got to put those all pieces together or else you're not going to have a very robust determination about the effectiveness of verification. Some things are just harder than others.

ACT: I think that's all the questions we had. I don't know if there is anything you wanted to add that we haven't asked.

DeSutter: The Nonproliferation Treaty PrepCom is coming up in New York. That's going to be a very important [event]. The NPT has been under assault by North Korea, Iran, and other countries of concern. We have extremely good news in the Libya case. But verification and especially compliance are going to be important topics at the PrepCom. [The United States] needs to explain our views on compliance and why it's important, and why all of the nations who are party to the NPT need to have a stake in enforcement.

ACT: With regards to the PrepCom, I'm sure the United States is going to hear charges that it regularly hears, that it's not complying with the NPT. As the head of the Verification and Compliance Bureau here in the United States, how do you respond to those allegations?

I would say that given the number of commitments and actions that the United States has taken relevant to cutting the number of our nuclear weapons, moving forward in a number of areas, I think it would be a very sad thing, given the assault we're seeing on the NPT by virtue of the noncompliance that we've got, if countries focused on the United States instead of where the problem is.

Is the United States expecting to introduce additional measures beyond those that the president has discussed in his recent speech at the PrepCom?

DeSutter: I don't think so.

ACT: Will the Verification and Compliance Bureau be working with NSG countries to be sure they're implementing President Bush's request not to supply reprocessing and enrichment capabilities to other countries? Is that something your office will be dealing with?

The Nonproliferation Bureau would have the lead on that, but we would be happy to help our colleagues over there with that.

We appreciate your time. Thank you very much.