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– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
U.S. Points to Libya as Disarmament Model: An interview with Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter

Wade Boese

Since December, Paula DeSutter, a top Department of State official, has been working long hours to ensure that Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi fulfills his pledge to abandon irrefutably all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) ambitions and programs. Based on that experience, she has a simple message for the leaders in Iran and North Korea: follow Gaddafi’s lead if you want better relations with the United States.

In a March 12 interview with Arms Control Today, DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, described as “breathtaking” Libya’s Dec. 19 vow to end its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and subsequent steps to make good on that pledge. A former four-year professional staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, DeSutter said the United States wants “Libya to be a model for other countries” and that North Korea and Iran stand to reap greater benefits and security from ending their weapons programs than continuing them.

The United States has long charged North Korea and Iran with covertly pursuing nuclear weapons. North Korea, which kicked out international arms inspectors in December 2002, has admitted as much, while Iran staunchly denies the allegations despite a growing list of illegal nuclear activities exposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA is responsible for deterring and detecting attempts by states to use their peaceful nuclear programs as a cover to build atomic arms illicitly.

The Bush administration has made clear that neither Iran nor North Korea can hope for improved relations with the United States unless each unambiguously abandons their nuclear weapons programs, or make what DeSutter deems a “strategic commitment.”

According to DeSutter, Libya made such a strategic commitment. It invited U.S., British, and international inspectors into the country; gave inspectors full access to all the facilities they wanted to see; and turned over weapons and related equipment for removal and destruction. In sum, states genuinely intent on disarming “volunteer information,” DeSutter stated.

For example, DeSutter said that Libyan officials on one occasion voluntarily took inspectors to a turkey farm where some chemical munitions were secretly stored. If they had not done so, she asserted, “we almost certainly would not have been able to identify [the farm as an arms storage area] independently.”

Since making its decision to disarm, Libya has destroyed 3,200 unfilled chemical bombs and allowed the United States to remove more than 1,000 tons of WMD-related equipment, including centrifuge components, and five Scud-C ballistic missiles. Tripoli has also agreed to stop using highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons, to fuel its reactor at Tajoura.

If Iran and North Korea chose to copy Libya, DeSutter gushed about the possibilities. “I can imagine tremendous movement in terms of how close the United States would want to be to Iran,” DeSutter said. She added, “I can see an awful lot of national needs that [North Korea] has that would be best served by making a strategic commitment to give up its weapons of mass destruction.”

Yet, the Bush administration, which also condemns the two states for their poor human rights records and undemocratic systems, has never specified what kind of benefits the regimes could derive from disarming.

DeSutter implied both states would be safer if they gave up their suspected weapons programs because there would be less reason for other states to be concerned about them militarily. “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,” she stated.

North Korean public statements suggest Pyongyang believes the opposite. They extol the North Korean nuclear weapons program as the only viable protection against attacks by more powerful states, in particular the United States.

Absent a strategic commitment to disarm, DeSutter indicated the United States would have little confidence in verification measures to provide assurances that Iran or North Korea had truly shelved their weapons programs because of their past records of cheating on agreements.

The presence of international arms inspectors would do little to ease her concerns. “No number of inspectors is an adequate substitute for a firm commitment on the part of the government to yield its weapons programs,” DeSutter declared.

Inspections can be of limited utility if items with both civilian and military uses are being scrutinized, DeSutter explained. She said, “As things get smaller, as things become more dual-use, then the verification challenge is going to grow.”

Still, DeSutter said she favors making greater use of the right of states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to conduct challenge inspections to settle suspicions on whether fellow members are truly complying with that treaty. The CWC has been in force since April 1997, and there have been charges of cheating, but no challenge inspections have yet been carried out. DeSutter observed, “Because [the challenge inspection right] has not been used in the past, it becomes increasingly difficult to use it.”

Although very keen about shedding more light on the weapons programs of states hostile to the United States, DeSutter showed little interest in the same for governments friendly to Washington, such as Pakistan, which has nuclear arms and was recently exposed as the home base for an extensive proliferation network run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb. (See ACT, March 2004.) Claiming Khan acted in his own interests and worked outside of Pakistan, DeSutter said, “Access to the Pakistani program wouldn’t have necessarily given us insight into what was being produced in Malaysia.”

For a complete transcript of this interview please click here