Alleged Arms Dealer Viktor Bout Extradited
After more than two years in Thai custody, Russian alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout was extradited to the United States and appeared Nov. 17 in a Manhattan federal court.
Although believed to have supplied arms to conflict zones around the world, Bout faces charges related only to an alleged 2008 effort to equip the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which the U.S. government has classified as a terrorist organization.
At a Nov. 17 press briefing, U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara outlined the case against Bout, derived from a Thai-U.S. sting operation in March 2008 in which Bout and associate Andrew Smulian offered to equip U.S. agents pretending to be FARC members with an “arsenal that would be the envy of some small countries,” according to Bharara. (See ACT, April 2008.)
At Bout’s arraignment later that day, he pleaded not guilty; the trial date has not been set.
If convicted on all charges, including conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, use and acquire anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization, Bout would face a minimum sentence of 25 years and maximum of life imprisonment. At the briefing, Bharara revealed that Smulian had already admitted to the allegations and that evidence from conspirators would be part of the case against Bout, who has maintained his innocence since the 2008 arrest.
Russia called the extradition illegal, but U.S. Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley said Nov. 16 he did not expect the case to upset U.S.-Russian relations.
Russian officials had pressed the Thai government to release Bout while U.S. officials argued for his extradition. When the extradition occurred Nov. 16, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying, “There is no doubt that the illegal extradition of Viktor Bout is a consequence of the unprecedented political pressure exerted by the United States on the government and judicial authorities in Thailand.” By Nov. 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements had moderated. Russian news service RIA Novosti quoted him as saying, “We will not act as Bout’s advocates and do not claim that he did not commit any illegal offences. That we do not know, and no one will know, until justice is done…. We want to see justice prevail, nothing more.”
Material Secured From Kazakhstani Reactor
An international effort led by the United States and Kazakhstan has removed material containing 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from a fast-breeder reactor in Kazakhstan, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said in a Nov. 18 press release and a follow-up e-mail to Arms Control Today.
The plutonium and HEU are contained in 300 metric tons of spent fuel shipped from the BN-350 reactor on the Caspian Sea to a secure storage facility more than 3,000 kilometers away in eastern Kazakhstan, the NNSA said. The material, transported in 12 shipments over the past year, contains enough plutonium and HEU for 775 nuclear weapons, the NNSA said.
In 1997, Kazakhstan and the United States signed an agreement that established a joint program for the long-term, secure storage of the BN-350 fuel. The reactor stopped weapons material production in the 1980s and was completely shut down in 1999.
The United Kingdom and the International Atomic Energy Agency played key roles in the fuel shipments, which were completed ahead of schedule, the NNSA said.
Parties to Cluster Munitions Pact Adopt Plan
The first meeting of states-parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in Vientiane, Laos, concluded Nov. 12 with the adoption of a 66-point proposal outlining concrete steps for implementing the treaty. The Vientiane declaration and action plan calls on participating states to condemn the use of cluster munitions, accelerate stockpile destruction, and expand support for victims.
In her Nov. 9 address to the Vientiane meeting, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro described the effort as “an important step towards peace, multilateral co-operation, and humanitarian disarmament.”
To date, 108 countries have signed and 48 have ratified the CCM, which entered into force Aug. 1. At least seven countries that have ratified or signed the pact have destroyed their stockpiles, and an additional 11 have initiated this process since the treaty was opened for signature in 2008.
However, 47 states currently known to have cluster munitions stockpiles, including China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and Russia, have not signed the CCM. The United States, which holds one of the world’s largest stockpiles and continues to allow the export of treaty-banned weapons, is not a party to the treaty and did not attend the Laos meeting.
Lebanon, which on Nov. 5 became the 46th country to ratify the convention, will host the second states-parties meeting, slated for September 2011. Like this year’s host country, Lebanon continues to suffer annual casualties from significant numbers of cluster munitions left on its territory that failed to explode as intended during previous conflicts.
Nobel Laureates Call for Nuclear Disarmament
Declaring that the use of nuclear weapons “must be regarded as a crime against humanity” and that “[t]he threats posed by nuclear weapons did not disappear with the ending of the Cold War,” a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners on Nov. 14 called for elimination of the weapons and for a treaty banning their use.
“Nuclear weapons cannot be disinvented, but they can and must be outlawed, just as chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions have been declared illegal,” said the group’s statement, which was issued at the end of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Hiroshima.
The declaration “welcome[d]” the signing of the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and called on key countries, including the United States, to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) so that it can enter into force.
Tibor Tóth, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, the organization responsible for overseeing the treaty’s verification as well as “promoting [its] universality,” addressed the summit Nov. 13. The CTBT “can be a rallying point on the road to the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” he said.
Several peace prize winners, including former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, endorsed the statement.