News Analysis: NATO, Arms Control and Nonproliferation: An Alliance Divided?

Oliver Meier

NATO's April 3-4 summit in France and Germany is expected to initiate a review of the alliance's 1999 Strategic Concept, which is likely to lead to a lively debate over the role the alliance should play in arms control and nonproliferation efforts. Some alliance members, such as Germany and Norway, are expected to favor a broader role for the alliance on arms control and nonproliferation issues. Others, particularly those from eastern Europe, are likely to oppose such a departure from NATO's traditional mission.

The issue remains controversial among the 26 allies partly because it is a reflection of the debate about NATO's future more generally. Those who believe that NATO ought to concentrate on its core missions-defense of allied territory and interests-tend to argue that NATO's contribution to arms control is marginal and should remain so. According to this view, the alliance would be well advised to concentrate on successfully mastering key challenges, such as fostering stability in Afghanistan, and avoid getting distracted by secondary and potentially divisive issues, such as arms control and nonproliferation.

By contrast, others believe that, in order to remain relevant, NATO needs to speed up its transformation from a military alliance to a political organization. They tend to view arms control as a useful and necessary addition to the alliance's portfolio. From this perspective, arms control and nonproliferation are instruments that NATO must use to strengthen European and global security.

To be sure, NATO cannot avoid the issue completely. NATO members individually and the alliance as a whole regularly articulate positions on arms control, particularly conventional arms control. Moreover, NATO's military posture has an influence on efforts to reduce armaments and control the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Exactly how the debate over the Strategic Concept plays out and where the Obama administration places itself in the debate could affect issues from conventional arms agreements to the future of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Moreover, as the debate unwinds, NATO members will have to answer a series of specific and difficult questions: What relationship do the allies want with Russia? Does NATO need to rely on nuclear weapons for collective security? To what degree should the military alliance become operationally involved in counterproliferation efforts?

Dealing With Russia

NATO's formal dealings with Russia take place through the NATO-Russia Council, which has a mandate to discuss arms control, nonproliferation, and confidence-building measures with Moscow. Consultations in the council were suspended in August 2008 in response to Russia's military action in Georgia, but on March 5, NATO foreign ministers agreed to relaunch formal discussions with Russia in the council "as soon as possible after" the Strasbourg/Kehl NATO summit this month.

The decision came after the Obama administration announced its desire to hit the "reset" button in U.S.-Russian relations. NATO allies right now are generally "following the lead of the U.S. in relations with Russia," a U.S. official told Arms Control Today in an interview March 16.

On March 5, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton argued during a press conference after the decision was taken to re-engage Russia that nonproliferation and arms control are among the issues where the United States believes "we not only can, but must cooperate with Russia."

Similarly, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has supported a quick resumption of the NATO-Russia Council and consideration of a proposal by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss a new European security architecture.

In his March 5 statement announcing the resumption of formal discussions in the council, NATO's outgoing secretary-general, Jaap de Hoof Scheffer, concluded that "there's certainly a willingness in discuss...the hard security aspects of the Medvedev proposals in the framework" of the council, although he pointed out that "the primary forum for discussing these issues was and is" the 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Some new and formerly Soviet-dominated NATO members believe that it is not the alliance's business to accommodate Russian security interests. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in a Feb. 7 speech to the Munich security conference warned against NATO taking up the Medvedev proposal. He said that "a security architecture of Europe based on this notion of privileged interests so egregiously violates the fundamental values and assumptions of liberal democracy that binds the West together that we have to approach such new structures with extreme caution." Ilves argued that the West first needs "to return to the core mission of NATO, the defense of the alliance, and only after that begin to discuss other, new structures."

In any case, two stumbling blocks will have to be removed before NATO can fully engage Russia on arms control. One is the future of plans to deploy parts of the U.S. national missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland. Indications that the Obama administration may suspend deployment until it has been proven that the system is workable and cost effective (see ACT, March 2009) have created a breathing space for U.S.-Russian relations but have also widened the gap within NATO on the issue.

Although most western European governments were visibly relieved by signs that the Obama administration intends to step back from immediate deployment, the Czech and Polish governments, which have each invested considerable political capital to secure domestic support, appear to feel betrayed. Part of the anger stems from a letter by Obama sent to his Russian counterpart in February, in which he tied U.S. missile defense plans to Russian pressure on Iran. As the U.S. official pointed out in the Arms Control Today interview the Obama administration "has carefully tied the system to Iranian behavior," not European security issues.

Some eastern Europeans take a different view. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek was quoted by the Czech news website as saying on TV March 15 that missile defense "is a project that has a European dimension, NATO dimension, and in this sense I do not expect Obama to make any breakthrough negative statement." Topolanek predicted that the United States will deploy a missile defense radar base in the Czech Republic. Two days later, however, Topolanek was forced to withdraw from parliament a bilateral agreement with the United States on the hosting of the radar base because opposition parties threatened to vote it down. Topolanek pledged to resubmit the agreement for parliamentary ratification after the NATO summit and a visit by Obama to Prague on April 5.

The Polish government also is fearful that the United States might not fulfill the promises made by the Bush administration. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski was quoted Feb. 13 as saying that "regardless of what kind of decision the U.S. will take, we expect that the declaration on strategic cooperation will be fulfilled."

The bilateral declaration on strategic cooperation, signed Aug. 20, 2008, by the United States and Poland allows for U.S. missile defense interceptors to be based in Poland. In return, Washington pledged to base Patriot missile defense systems in Poland and to provide other military assistance.

Czech and Polish fears that the United States might hold off deploying the system appear justified. The U.S. official pointed out that the Obama administration is "open minded" about the future of missile defense bases in the Czech Republic and Poland. "There is no dedication to speed ahead with missile defense," he told Arms Control Today. NATO is likely to follow that line by postponing any decision on the alliance's involvement in strategic missile defenses.

Finding a way out of the deadlock on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty will be another major challenge for NATO. Conventional arms control has been a key arms control responsibility for the alliance since the 1980s, when allied positions on the negotiations on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions were coordinated at NATO's Brussels headquarters. To this day, the alliance is responsible for CFE Treaty implementation and coordination among its members.

Russia announced suspension of CFE Treaty implementation Dec. 12, 2007, bringing to a head a long-standing dispute with the alliance.

The 1990 CFE Treaty limits the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft that its 30 states-parties may station between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. Russia is upset that the 22 NATO members bound by the 1990 agreement have not moved to ratify the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty, which sets national weapons limits for each country, as compared with the original treaty's equal bloc limits on NATO and the defunct Warsaw Pact.

NATO had maintained that Russia must first fulfill commitments to withdraw its military forces from the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova. Russia made those political commitments at the Istanbul summit at which the Adapted CFE Treaty was concluded and signed. (See ACT, November 1999.)

Formally, NATO continues to insist that Russia needs to fulfill the Istanbul commitments, as outlined in its proposal for a "parallel actions package" that was agreed by NATO members March 28, 2008. (See ACT, June 2008.) According to that proposal, NATO countries would begin their national ratification processes, some of which could take several months or longer, while Russia resumes its military withdrawals from Georgia and Moldova.

The war in Georgia, however, has further complicated the issue, and it appears increasingly unlikely that a solution to the impasse can be found on the basis of existing proposals. (See ACT, September 2008.)

Privately, some NATO officials believe allies should make Russia a new offer to resolve outstanding questions. De Hoop Scheffer, in his Feb. 7 speech to the Munich security conference, appeared to support that case by saying that "Russia has a legitimate case to make in asking for a discussion of existing arms control treaties."

Yet, there are few concrete ideas on how to break the deadlock. The U.S. official said that, with few members of the Obama administration in place, it will be difficult to address crucial issues such as the CFE Treaty and missile defense early on when the NATO-Russia Council resumes its formal consultations, but argued that "getting the process right will be the victory." Moreover, Russia apparently has not yet indicated what issues it would like to include on the council agenda, leaving NATO officials unsure how to engage Russia in this forum. To foster discussions outside the council, the German government will host a meeting June 12 of high-level experts from CFE Treaty countries in Berlin.

NATO and Multilateral Arms Control

As a military alliance of 26 nations operating on a consensus basis with few collective resources, NATO is not well configured to support multilateral arms control. Guy Roberts, NATO's deputy assistant secretary-general for WMD policy, said in a Feb. 5 interview with Arms Control Today that "[s]ince NATO is not a party to these multilateral arms control treaties, it is sometimes very challenging to find ways where we as an organization can contribute. Nevertheless, we are constantly looking for ways in which we can support or participate in nonproliferation activities or initiatives."

At least the new tone in Washington will make it easier for NATO to take a coherent position on multilateral arms control and nonproliferation regimes. Most notably, the alliance is now unified in support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and all 26 allies will be full members if and when the United States completes its ratification procedure.

NATO has consistently stated its "support for existing multilateral nonproliferation agreements," such as the NPT, and called for universal compliance with it. It remains unclear to what degree NATO can and should contribute beyond declaratory policies. In particular, NATO's contribution to a successful outcome of the 2010 NPT Review Conference is being discussed.

During the Clinton administration, NATO allies had explicitly endorsed the 13 steps on nuclear disarmament agreed by the 2000 NPT Review Conference. That position, as well as other recommendations to strengthen verifiable, multilateral arms control agreements, were the result of NATO's most thorough review of its arms control policies, recorded in the Dec. 14, 2000, report entitled "Report on Options for Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs), Verification, Non-Proliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament." The arms control consensus of that time did not continue during the Bush administration and might be difficult to re-establish, particularly on nuclear arms control.

France, for example, supported the Bush administration in questioning the validity of NPT disarmament commitments and has never recommitted itself to the 13 steps on nuclear disarmament, which are part of the political obligations Paris entered into by accepting the final document of the 2000 NPT Review Conference.

On March 11, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the French intention to reintegrate into NATO's military structures. Yet, Paris will not return to NATO's Nuclear Planning Group and other bodies discussing NATO's nuclear weapons policies.

Votes by NATO states in the UN General Assembly's First Committee also indicate different perspectives among allies on nuclear arms control. For example, NATO in 2008 was divided on resolutions supporting the New Agenda Coalition's initiative on nuclear disarmament and a resolution calling for the de-alerting of nuclear forces, with NATO nuclear-weapon states France and the United States rejecting both resolutions. The United Kingdom, which recently has recommitted itself to the NPT and the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world, abstained on the New Agenda Coalition resolution but rejected the de-alerting initiative. (See ACT, December 2008.)

NATO Nuclear Sharing Questioned

NATO nuclear policies have been a point of contention at all recent NPT states-parties meetings. Nonaligned countries in particular have criticized NATO's practice of nuclear sharing as being inconsistent with the treaty. (See ACT, June 2008.)

NATO keeps details of its nuclear deployments secret, but it is estimated that the United States probably still deploys between 150 and 240 B61 bombs in Europe. Under nuclear sharing arrangements, as many as 140 weapons can still be assigned for use by Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, none of which have their own nuclear arms. These weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime but can be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war. (See ACT, September 2008.)

There are differing views among NATO members as to whether changes in the alliance's nuclear deployments, doctrine, and policies can have an impact on a successful outcome of the NPT review conference.

Some NATO officials argue that NATO nuclear sharing has become more relevant, not less, in a multipolar nuclear world. Michael Rühle of NATO's policy planning unit, writing in his personal capacity, warns in the most recent issue of Comparative Strategy of "abolitionist delusions" and predicts that "it is only matter of time until Europe finds itself in a much less comfortable situation" because of developments in the Middle East and Russia. In such a situation, NATO nuclear sharing, Rühle writes, "is supposed to spare Europe the nervousness that is so palpable in the Middle East and Asia." Accordingly, in a Jan. 15 speech on the topic of NATO's upcoming 60th anniversary, British Secretary of State for Defense John Hutton stated that "the Strategic Concept needs to recognize the ongoing relevance of nuclear deterrence as one of its fundamental security tasks."

NATO officials concede that, as a result of the Strategic Concept review, nuclear deployment patterns might change. Roberts said that "although there are no plans currently to do so, there is a possibility that there might be further reductions." He said that such reductions in overall numbers would not imply the complete withdrawal of nuclear weapons from one or more countries where the United States currently deploys short-range nuclear weapons. Roberts cautioned, however, that any such changes to NATO nuclear deployments "will most likely not occur until the United States completes its mandated nuclear posture review and adjusts its policies accordingly."

It is not clear to what outcome that review will lead. It might result in a push for even more radical changes, particularly because the Obama administration has committed itself to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. Ivo Daalder, nominated as U.S. ambassador to NATO, in an article with Jan Lodal in Foreign Affairs argued that U.S. "non-nuclear allies are likely to embrace" a course by the United States that follows the "logic of zero" on nuclear weapons.

Daalder specifically recommended that the United States limit the role of nuclear weapons to the deterrence of other nuclear-weapon states and that it do so unilaterally. By contrast, the interim report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, released Dec. 15, specifically stated that the U.S. nonproliferation strategy "will continue to depend upon U.S. extended deterrence strategy as one of its pillars." The commission, headed by former Secretaries of Defense William Perry and James Schlesinger, concludes that, without credible U.S. security, many U.S. allies "would feel enormous pressures to create their own nuclear arsenals."

It would be a radical change for NATO to bring its own nuclear doctrine in line with Daalder's recommendation. NATO does not exclude the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for non-nuclear attacks. The alliance also maintains the right to use nuclear weapons first, although in its current Strategic Concept the likelihood of having to use nuclear weapons is described as "extremely remote."

The U.S. official interviewed by Arms Control Today said that Daalder is "ahead of the administration" in advocating unilateral changes to the U.S. nuclear posture and predicted that "Washington is not going to impose these ideas on allies." The same official also predicted "fascinating discussions" on NATO's new nuclear policy when the alliance begins the review of its Strategic Concept at the April summit. In particular, proponents of nuclear sharing will have to make the case why U.S. security guarantees in today's world still hinge on the forward deployment of a few hundred tactical nuclear weapons on the territories of non-nuclear-weapon states and whether existing security guarantees by the United States and the two other NATO nuclear powers do not suffice to assure allies.

Despite much-improved NATO-Russian relations, NATO states generally tend to argue that a possible withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe could only happen in the context of a negotiated agreement with Russia on tactical weapons.

Russia is believed to possess thousands of such short-range nuclear weapons. At the 2008 NPT preparatory committee meeting, Russia proposed an initiative to "concentrate nuclear weapons within the territories of the nuclear-weapon states."

The United States is currently the only nuclear-weapon state known to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of non-nuclear-weapon states.

In a Nov. 14 interview with Arms Control Today, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak stated that U.S. willingness to withdraw those tactical nuclear weapons from Europe would be a "serious factor" in changing Russia's position on consolidating, reducing, or eliminating its tactical nuclear weapons generally but warned that "we need to have a little bit more complex discussion between us and the United States and between us and NATO on the security environment in Europe" before such a decision could be taken. (See ACT, December 2008.)

In a March 7 statement to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added an additional twist by pointing out that Moscow deems it "necessary to exclude possible deployments of strategic offensive arms outside national territories" in the context of negotiations on a follow-on agreement to START, due to expire in December.

An Operational Role for NATO in Counterproliferation and Disarmament?

Institutionally, NATO has prepared to play a stronger role in nonproliferation and counterproliferation ever since it launched its WMD initiative in 1999 and a Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre was set up at NATO headquarters in 2000. The center's role includes efforts to strengthen consultations on nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament issues.

In reality, NATO's operational role in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction remains limited, partly because of the lack of joint assets and partly because of disagreement among allies about the usefulness of counterproliferation as an instrument to prevent or roll back WMD proliferation.

Counterproliferation split the alliance in 2003 when the Bush administration asked NATO to support its invasion of Iraq in order to destroy Saddam Hussein's alleged WMD programs. Allies are not keen to repeat the debate.

Since then some have proposed more modestly that NATO could play a larger role, particularly in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

The PSI was launched in May 2003 as part of an increased effort by the Bush administration to address the risks of unconventional weapons proliferation. According to the statement of interdiction principles concluded by the 11 founding states at that time, the effort is intended to "establish a more coordinated and effective basis through which to impede and stop shipments of [unconventional weapons], delivery systems, and related materials."

Still, the alliance does not have significant assets to interdict relevant transports, and NATO as an institution cannot participate in the PSI. Leading PSI participants regularly inform NATO's Senior Politico-Military Group on Proliferation of PSI-related developments, but specific contributions by the alliance have remained small.

A NATO briefing paper states that NATO's Operation Active Endeavour "contributes to achieving the PSI's objectives by enhancing maritime security in the Mediterranean, and helping to detect, deter, defend and protect against activities by non-state actors." Under Operation Active Endeavour, NATO ships are patrolling the Mediterranean and monitoring shipping.

NATO also has recently established a Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center in Greece to train NATO forces "to better execute surface, sub-surface, aerial surveillance, and special operations activities in support of Maritime Interdiction Operations."

The U.S. official interviewed March 16 believes that a larger role for NATO in counterproliferation is likely to remain a "red line for many allies." With the new U.S. administration showing less determination to use military force in nonproliferation, there is now "stiffening resistance" to the idea of giving NATO a larger role in counterproliferation, he said. "That wave has seen its crest," the official concluded.

NATO does continue to support demilitarization through member states' contributions to so-called Partnership for Peace Trust Funds. Under these programs, NATO and partner countries support specific programs through voluntary programs often coordinated and implemented by the Luxembourg-based NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency. According to the NATO Web site, some 40 million euros (about $54 million) have been contributed to such projects between 2000 and 2008. In the context of these programs NATO has helped to destroy 105 million small arms ammunition, more than 4 million landmines, 2 million hand-grenades, 270,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance, more than 160,000 small arms and light weapons, 8,700 tons of munitions, 1,500 tons of chemicals including rocket fuel, 1,000 man-portable air defense systems, and 530 high-altitude anti-aircraft missiles.

What Role for NATO in Arms Control?

With the new U.S. administration still sorting out policy and personnel, the two key documents to be approved at NATO's forthcoming 60th anniversary summit, a short declaration on alliance security and a longer communiquè, are unlikely to contain sweeping changes to existing arms control policies.

Any more radical changes are likely to be dependent on the outcome of a more general debate about NATO's mission, which allies hope to finish by adopting a new Strategic Concept at the next summit in Lisbon, to take place in late 2010 or early 2011.

The outcome of this debate likely will be influenced by the format of the Strategic Concept review. Some countries prefer a review by external experts similar to the process that led to the 1967 Harmel report, which for the first time established the political role of the alliance. Part of the rationale behind proposals such as the German idea to have a group of "eminent persons" review the strategic concept is to bypass the inertia of NATO's complex bureaucracy. Others prefer an in-house review that is likely to result in less radical proposals.

The brief history of an initiative launched in December 2007 by Steinmeier and his Norwegian counterpart, Jonas Gahr Støre, "to identify areas in which NATO can better define its profile on disarmament, arms control and nuclear non-proliferation" illustrates how difficult it is to give new impetus to arms control discussions in NATO.

Against the background of the demise of arms control during the Bush administration, deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations, and the resulting CFE Treaty crisis, the initiative was cautiously supported by a number of NATO members, including Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Spain. Yet, eastern Europeans supported by France and the United States rebuffed the proposal.

Instead of endorsing the idea of giving NATO a greater role in arms control, members commissioned a report on the issue, which remains classified but apparently lacked any specific proposals. Likewise, an idea to institutionalize discussions on arms control-related issues in the NATO Council by scheduling a regular, annual debate on the issue also failed. In the end, the April 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest merely "took note of the report prepared for us on raising NATO's profile in this field" and tasked the NATO Council "to keep these issues under active review."

As long as divisions within the alliance on NATO's role cannot be overcome, those 21 alliance members that are also members of the European Union are likely to continue to look primarily toward the EU as the central institution for coordinating their arms control and nonproliferation policies. The EU is at a comparative disadvantage vis-à-vis NATO because it has been unable to address the role of nuclear deterrence in its foreign and security policy and it does not have a permanent dialogue with Russia on security-related issues. The EU's arms control policies are far more integrated than those of NATO, however, and the EU has larger resources at its disposal.

EU Nonproliferation Chief Sketches Transatlantic Agenda

Oliver Meier

While NATO is about to re-evaluate its role in arms control and nonproliferation, EU officials hope that the change of administration in Washington will kick-start transatlantic cooperation. In a Feb. 16 interview with Arms Control Today, Annalisa Giannella, the personal representative for nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said that Europeans will have "a better chance of getting very good results in the next few years with the United States and EU working together in the same direction."

Giannella noted the broad convergence with Washington on a variety of arms control issues, with the possible exception of an arms trade treaty. "[T]he EU is in favor of and is actively promoting the beginning of negotiations on an arms trade treaty. I'm not yet sure that the Obama administration will be entirely supportive of this," she noted.

In 2006 the UN General Assembly voted to work toward establishing "common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons." A UN group of governmental experts on Aug. 26, 2008, adopted by consensus a report that called for further study within the United Nations in a step-by-step manner and on "the basis of consensus" of the possibility of an arms trade treaty. (See ACT, December 2008.)

Giannella explained that the European Union recently made its internal code of conduct on arms exports legally binding in order to become a "very credible actor" as a promoter of the arms trade treaty. "This is a question of coherence," she pointed out.

In the interview, Giannella also provided background on a number of other recent EU arms control initiatives. She explained that consultations with third countries on a draft code of conduct for outer space activities, approved by EU member states in December 2008, are underway and stated that "if the modified version can be accepted by most of the countries, we will be able to convene an ad hoc conference maybe at the end of the year or beginning of next year."

Looking ahead to the 2010 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, Giannella admitted that on nuclear disarmament in the past "the lowest common denominator between EU members was extremely low" but said that the "situation has started to improve over the last couple of years precisely because there has been a modification of the position in United Kingdom and most recently in France."

On Feb. 4, British Foreign Minister David Miliband presented a six-point plan on nuclear disarmament, in which he described conditions for achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. After the interview, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a March 17 speech further elaborated the British position and offered that the United Kingdom would be ready to participate in broader negotiations "as soon as it becomes useful for our arsenal to be included." On Dec. 5, 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in his role as acting president of the EU, wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, outlining the EU position on nuclear arms control issues. Among other things, the letter calls for increased nuclear weapons transparency and initiatives on tactical nuclear weapons.

Describing the EU's NPT agenda, Giannella said that it would be a success "if we could have progress on multilateral nuclear fuel approaches and on disarmament" at the review conference.

Speaking about the Obama administration's new offer for talks with Iran, Giannella disputed that the United States would be prepared to unconditionally enter into a dialogue with Tehran on nuclear issues. "If 'without preconditions' is being taken to mean that there is no need for Iran to suspend or freeze enrichment activities, I am not sure if this is what is meant by the U.S. administration," she said.

She also expressed disappointment with Iran's reaction to the Obama administration's new stance. "Instead of saying 'Okay, happy to see that now we have an interlocutor who is ready to talk to us. We are ready to talk as well, and maybe both of us should calm down our rhetoric,' we hear 'The Americans should apologize for what they have done in the past,'" she said.

Giannella said she favors a direct dialogue between Tehran and Washington before the Iranian presidential elections in June, warning that "we should not waste time." With regard to the possibility of China and Russia supporting a new set of sanctions, she reacted cautiously and pointed out that "we haven't had maximum convergence of views on this element" with Moscow and Beijing recently.

Click here to read the complete interview.