"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Daniel Horner

U.S., S. Korea Find 2-Year Fix for Pact

Daniel Horner

South Korea and the United States announced last month that they have agreed to extend for two years their current agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation, an acknowledgment that they could not resolve contentious issues dealing with South Korea’s commercial nuclear fuel-cycle plans in time to adopt a successor agreement before the current pact expires.

The 1974 accord was set to expire next March, but because of the requirements for congressional review under U.S. law, the two sides would have had to sign a new agreement around the middle of this year to make sure U.S. lawmakers completed the review in time to prevent a lapse.

The separate but similar announcements of the extension by South Korea and the United States on April 24 came two weeks before South Korean President Park Geun-hye is to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. Some observers had said the two sides would not want to have a divisive issue between them as they are working to demonstrate unity in the face of recent provocative actions and statements by North Korea (see). The issue pits U.S. efforts to limit the spread of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle technologies against South Korea’s position that it should be treated not like new nuclear power states, but like Japan, which has a long-established nuclear program and has built a commercial-scale spent fuel reprocessing facility.

The U.S. statement, a press release issued by the State Department, said Seoul and Washington had made “significant progress” in the talks, but it cited “complex technical issues that will take some additional time and effort to resolve.” The two governments are “seek[ing] to work together to address common challenges, including those related to spent nuclear fuel management and reliable supplies of nuclear fuel,” the statement said.

A central issue in the negotiations is pyroprocessing, a spent fuel treatment process that South Korea is developing. The South Koreans say it is more proliferation resistant than conventional spent fuel reprocessing because, in pyroprocessing, the plutonium separated from the spent fuel is mixed with other elements. The United States has said that “pyroprocessing is reprocessing.” (See ACT, April 2011.)

Seoul also has said it needs to develop a domestic capacity to enrich uranium to ensure fuel supplies for its nuclear power program. The United States says the international nuclear fuel market, reinforced by a system of fuel supply assurances, could serve that purpose.

South Korea, an emerging supplier of reactors, also argues that the ability to enrich uranium would make it more competitive with other vendors that have that capability. Many analysts, however, say that the ability to supply fuel as part of a package to potential reactor customers is not likely to be a major factor in the buying decisions.

The current U.S.-South Korean cooperation agreement came into force, four years before passage of the U.S. Nuclear Nonproliferation Act (NNPA). The 1978 NNPA amended the 1954 Atomic Energy Act to require that cooperation agreements include more-rigorous nonproliferation provisions, such as a requirement for U.S. consent before nuclear trading partners can enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel involving U.S.-origin material.

Under the NNPA, the congressional review process differs according to whether a nuclear cooperation agreement contains these provisions. If it meets the NNPA standards, Congress does not need to vote to approve the pact. The president submits the agreement to Congress and if lawmakers do not vote against it within 90 legislative days, it can enter into force. The new U.S.-South Korean agreement that is being negotiated would have to meet the NNPA requirements and therefore would fall into this category of review.

On the other hand, if an agreement does not meet the NNPA standards, it cannot enter into force unless Congress passes legislation approving it. Fred McGoldrick, a consultant and former State Department official whose responsibilities included negotiating nuclear cooperation agreements, and Duyeon Kim of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation wrote in a recent paper for the Korea Economic Institute of America that the extension of the U.S.-South Korean pact would be such an agreement.

In an April 25 interview, a Republican congressional staffer said he read the law the same way. The State Department announcement did not provide information on that point, saying only that the administration would “begin immediately to consult with Congress” on the extension.

In their paper, McGoldrick and Kim expressed some concerns about the congressional approval for an extension. “It is proving increasingly difficult to pass important issues through Congress,” the authors wrote, questioning whether the House and Senate would schedule a vote “on a timely basis.” Another potential pitfall, they said, is that Congress might try to add nonproliferation conditions that would be unacceptable to the Obama administration or the South Korean government.

As the Obama administration negotiates nuclear cooperation agreements with current and potential nuclear trading partners, Congress has devoted increased attention in the past few years to the question of what nonproliferation requirements, particularly with regard to enrichment and reprocessing, the cooperation agreements will include. But the congressional staffer indicated that he did not expect the interim extension of the U.S.-South Korean agreement to be controversial.

In its statement, the South Korean government said it would work to move “promptly” on the “domestic procedures” for the agreement extension, according to an unofficial translation. U.S.-based Korea analysts said it was not completely clear what procedures the National Assembly would use to consider the extension. The South Korean embassy in Washington did not respond by press time to a request for information on that point.

Unable to resolve the issues blocking a new agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation, South Korea and the United States announced plans to extend the current pact for two years.

NNSA Nonproliferation Budget Is Cut

Daniel Horner

The Energy Department’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts would receive $2.1 billion under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, a drop of $161 million from fiscal year 2012.

The largest proposed cut is in International Material Protection Cooperation, which would receive $370 million, a decline of $206 million from the fiscal year 2012 appropriation. Fissile Materials Disposition would fall by almost as much, $183 million, to $503 million (see). The Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which aims to secure nuclear and radiological material at civilian sites around the world and reduce the amounts of those materials, would receive $424 million in 2014, a cut of $79 million from 2012.

Because the fiscal year 2013 funding levels for nonproliferation programs were not firmly set, the detailed Energy Department documents use the fiscal year 2012 appropriation as the basis for comparison with the fiscal year 2014 request. The documents, which were released last month, provide estimates for the programs’ funding for 2013.

The nonproliferation programs are part of the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which also is responsible for nuclear weapons production. Funding for NNSA activities in that area would rise to $7.9 billion in 2014, up $310 million from 2013 (see).

The contrast in the figures for the weapons and nonproliferation budgets would have been greater if the NNSA were not proposing to transfer two programs with a combined 2014 budget request of more than $250 million from the weapons side to nonproliferation. In its detailed budget justification document, the NNSA said that shifting Nuclear Counterterrorism and Incident Response ($181 million) and Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation ($75 million) would place “all NNSA funding for reducing global nuclear dangers in one appropriation.”

NNSA officials say many of the funding reductions are in programs that are being successfully completed and therefore phased out. In a conference call with reporters April 10, the day the budget was released, Andrew Bieniawski, NNSA assistant deputy administrator for global threat reduction, said the proposed reduction in GTRI funding “really reflects a success” and the administration’s “front-load[ing]” of the program in earlier years to meet the four-year goal that President Barack Obama set in 2009 for securing nuclear material around the world.

But at an April 24 hearing of the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee, which she chairs, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called the reductions in the nonproliferation budget request “unwarranted and drastic.”

The administration proposed boosting funding of another major nonproliferation effort, the Defense Department’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program, to $529 million, an increase of $20 million from 2012. The largest hike in that program was in Cooperative Biological Engagement, which supports construction of pathogen repositories and research into disease-related threats around the world. Its 2014 funding would be $306 million, while the 2012 appropriation was $230 million. Proliferation Prevention, whose activities include training and equipping border security staff in the Middle East, would receive $74 million, an increase from 2012 funding of $63 million but a sizable drop from the estimated 2013 funding level of $118 million.

The requested 2014 funding level for Global Nuclear Security, whose responsibilities include supporting work in Russia on nuclear weapons storage sites, is $87 million. That is a reduction from $151 million in 2012 but an increase from the estimated 2013 funding level of $72 million.

In the State Department, the administration 2014 request for Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (NADR) is $616 million, a drop of $95 million from 2012. In spite of the overall cut in NADR, the U.S. voluntary contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency would rise from the $86 million appropriated in 2012 to $88 million under the 2014 request. The U.S. assessed contribution to the agency, a requested $110 million for fiscal year 2014, comes from a separate part of the State Department budget.

Under the 2014 request, the U.S. contribution to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization would be $32 million. The contribution was $40.5 million under the 2012 appropriation.

The Energy Department’s nuclear nonproliferation efforts would receive $2.1 billion under the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, a drop of $161 million from fiscal year 2012.

Lapse of U.S.-South Korea Pact Mulled

Daniel Horner

With talks on renewal of a U.S.-South Korean agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation still stalled, observers are raising the possibility that the pact could lapse.

The 1974 agreement expires next year, but because of the congressional review process required under U.S. law, analysts say the U.S. and South Korean governments would need to conclude their negotiations in the next several months. The two sides are at an impasse over Seoul’s long-term plans for enriching uranium and treating spent fuel.

South Korea is developing a spent fuel treatment process known as pyroprocessing, which it says is more proliferation resistant than conventional reprocessing. The United States has publicly disagreed with that assessment. In the most strongly worded instance, a State Department official cited the Energy Department as saying that “pyroprocessing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.” (See ACT, April 2011.)

Pyroprocessing has long been a stumbling block between the two countries; the enrichment issue has emerged more recently.

Last year, some observers said they hoped to see progress after the U.S. elections in November and the South Korean elections in December. But there appears to be no indication of that.

A recent development that may further complicate the process of putting a new agreement in place is the support that some South Koreans are expressing for obtaining nuclear weapons, apparently spurred by North Korea’s Feb. 12 nuclear test. (See ACT, March 2013.) At a March 13 event at the Korea Economic Institute of America, Fred McGoldrick, a consultant and former State Department official whose responsibilities included negotiating nuclear cooperation agreements, and Duyeon Kim of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation said such a move is not a sensible or realistic option for South Korea. Nevertheless, McGoldrick said, the South Korean calls for a nuclear weapon are “not going to help” when the cooperation agreement is submitted to Congress.

At the March 13 event, McGoldrick and Kim presented a paper in which they said that a “lengthy” lapse in the agreement “could have adverse economic and political consequences,” such as a South Korean loss of confidence in the United States as a “reliable supplier.” On the other hand, they said that “the economic consequences of a short-term lapse are not likely to be significant.”

At the event, McGoldrick recalled that the U.S. agreement with the European Atomic Energy Community lapsed for “a few months” in 1995 “and the world did not end.”

The McGoldrick-Kim paper lays out several options that South Korea and the United States could pursue if they do not resolve their differences in the next several months.

Striking a similar note, a Congressional Research Service report completed in late January said that reconciling the “strongly differing views” between the two countries would be “challenging.” That report also provided a list of possible interim measures.

The U.S.-South Korean talks are taking place against the backdrop of a long-running policy review within the U.S. government of the terms it will require in agreements with its potential nuclear trading partners. The key question in the review is how hard Washington should press these countries to forswear enrichment and reprocessing activities.

Some nonproliferation advocates on Capitol Hill and elsewhere have argued that the United States should require those countries to renounce enrichment and reprocessing, as the United Arab Emirates did in its 2009 cooperation agreement. In August 2010, a State Department spokesman referred to that agreement and the policy it embodied as the “gold standard.”

According to several sources, however, the policy review is not holding up the talks with South Korea because the United States would not ask Seoul to accept whatever restrictions the policy may require.

A slide that McGoldrick and Kim presented at the March 13 event summarized the policy discussions by saying, “U.S. administration position unclear on gold standard, but will not require of [South Korea].”

In a subsequent e-mail exchange with Arms Control Today, McGoldrick said the policy likely would call for Washington to ask prospective nuclear cooperation partners to agree not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing programs. If they refused, the United States would decide whether to proceed with the negotiations, he said.

The agreements with China and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), like the one with South Korea, would not be subject to that policy, he said. In separate interviews in recent weeks, two nuclear industry officials gave similar accounts of the evolving policy.

In a brief March 13 interview, a U.S. official familiar with the issue declined to provide details of the policy review, but appeared to confirm that the United States would not ask South Korea to give up enrichment and reprocessing. “Everyone understands the gold standard is a nonstarter” in the case of South Korea, he said.

With talks on renewal of a U.S.-South Korean agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation still stalled, observers are raising the possibility that the pact could lapse.

UN to Probe Syria Chemical Arms Claims

Daniel Horner

Responding to a request from the Syrian government, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is preparing to conduct an investigation into claims of chemical weapons use in Syria.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made the request after a March 19 incident in which about 25 people reportedly were killed and dozens more injured in the village of Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo. The Assad regime claims that Syrian opposition forces used chemical weapons in the fighting there.

In a March 21 press conference at the United Nations, Ban said that, in undertaking the investigation, he would insist on “unfettered access.” The two-year-old uprising in Syria has prompted widespread concern that Assad would use Syria’s reportedly large stockpile of chemical weapons against the rebels or transfer control of them to other states or to subnational groups. (See ACT, September 2012.)

Syrian opposition forces claim the Khan al-Assal attack was launched by the Assad regime. France and the United Kingdom have asked Ban to broaden his investigation to cover other sites where the rebels have said the Assad regime used chemical weapons. In announcing his acceptance of the Syrian request, Ban said, “I am, of course, aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons.”

Although Ban and his aides have indicated that the probe would not necessarily be restricted to responding to the Syrian government’s request, they have said it will be circumscribed. At a March 27 briefing, Ban spokesman Martin Nesirky said the goal is to determine “whether chemical weapons were used, and not by whom.” It is not “a criminal investigation” or an attempt “to apportion responsibility or blame,” he said.

In his March 21 remarks, Ban said he would carry out the probe in conjunction with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization. He later named Swedish scientist Åke Sellström to head the team. Sellström was an adviser to two UN bodies that carried out inspections in Iraq.

In a March 26 interview with UN Radio, Sellström said the investigation staff would come from international organizations. In a March 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said that “[m]ost or all of the inspectors” will be from the OPCW. He declined to provide further details.

In the radio interview, Sellström indicated the probe would start in early April.

At the March 21 press conference, Ban cited a 1987 UN General Assembly resolution that gives the secretary-general the authority to carry out such investigations. In a March 28 interview, Ralf Trapp, a former senior OPCW official who now is a consultant on biological and chemical weapons issues, said the authority has been applied in the past but that Ban’s investigation would be the first since the 1997 entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which established the OPCW.

Language in the CWC and in a 2000 agreement between the UN and the OPCW establishes the terms for cooperation between the two organizations.

Syria is not a party to the CWC.

The UN probe has the “unequivocal support” of the OPCW Executive Council, the council chair, Bhaswati Mukherjee of India, said in a statement issued after a March 27 meeting in The Hague.

The announcement of plans for the Syria investigation comes just weeks before the CWC parties are scheduled to hold their review conference April 8-19 in The Hague. It is not clear what impact the investigation request or the larger question of chemical weapons use in Syria is going to have on the conference, for which the OPCW and the treaty parties have been preparing for months. The conference is held once every five years.

Trapp said the state of affairs in Syria can be expected to figure in discussions of the need to achieve universality for the treaty. In addition to Syria, seven countries—Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, and South Sudan—are not parties to the CWC.

The conference participants also might discuss Syria in the context of determining the degree of readiness the OPCW should maintain for investigations into alleged chemical weapons use and the provision of assistance to the victims of chemical attacks, Trapp said.

Responding to a request from the Syrian government, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is preparing to conduct an investigation into claims of chemical weapons use in Syria.

Samore Suggests 2016 Security Summit

Daniel Horner

President Barack Obama should consider holding a nuclear security summit in 2016 rather than ending the ongoing series of summits next year, Gary Samore, Obama’s former chief adviser on arms control, said Feb. 22.

Following up on a proposal that Obama made in his April 2009 speech in Prague, the Obama administration hosted the first nuclear security summit a year later in Washington. The second summit was in Seoul last year. Officials from the United States and several other countries have suggested that next year’s meeting, which is to be held in The Hague, could be the last.

In his remarks at a nuclear policy conference in Arlington, Va., Samore, who until earlier this year was White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism, said “there’s a stronger argument to be made” for holding a 2016 summit in Washington instead of ending the process in 2014.

The additional summit would “create a stronger basis for transferring nuclear security issues from a summit level to more-inclusive venues,” such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations, and would give those institutions time to make sure they can handle their new roles effectively, said Samore, whose duties in the administration included overseeing U.S. preparations for the Washington and Seoul summits.

Citing a high-level nuclear security meeting that the IAEA is planning to hold this July (see ACT, December 2012), Samore said, “I’d like to see how effective and productive that [meeting] is before I decided that it would make sense” for the IAEA to take on major responsibilities in nuclear security.

Officials from the 53 countries that have participated in the summits hold a “range of views” as to whether the series of meetings should continue after next year’s, Samore said. Some of the countries that oppose the idea “have been suspicious from the beginning about the nuclear security summit process,” he said.

Other countries are likely to follow Obama’s lead on the issue, said Samore, who now is executive director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Obama needs to determine whether hosting another summit is worth the energy it would require, he said.

President Barack Obama should consider holding a nuclear security summit in 2016 rather than ending the ongoing series of summits next year, Gary Samore, Obama’s former chief adviser on arms control, said Feb. 22.

Stage Set for Meeting on Chemical Arms

Daniel Horner

As the 188 states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) prepare for the next treaty review conference in April, current and former officials of the international body charged with implementing the pact say treaty members and that body have overcome some of the most difficult issues facing the 1997 treaty but should take additional steps to strengthen the CWC regime in the years ahead.

The CWC parties hold review conferences every five years, in addition to having yearly meetings. The upcoming meeting is scheduled for April 8-19 in The Hague, the home of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In 2011 the parties addressed one of the most difficult issues the regime has faced, the inability of some parties that possess chemical weapons, notably Russia and the United States, to meet the treaty-mandated 2012 deadline for stockpile destruction. Officials from the two countries, as well as OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü and independent analysts, have said the delays were largely due to the need to ensure that the destruction work met health, safety, and environmental standards.

According to the decision document from the 2011 meeting, the chemical weapons possessors that missed the deadline—Libya, as well as Russia and the United States—have to complete the destruction “in the shortest time possible.” The decision required those countries to submit detailed plans for the destruction of the remaining weapons and spelled out reporting and monitoring requirements for that work. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

The vote on the 2011 decision was 101-1; Iran was the dissenting vote.

In a report on treaty operations that was distributed at the 2012 annual meeting last November, the OPCW Technical Secretariat said the 2011 decision “demonstrated the spirit of cooperation which characterizes the work of the OPCW.”

In a Jan. 9 interview, Ralf Trapp, a former senior OPCW official, said resolving the issue of the 2012 deadline was important because failure to do so could have “derailed” the review conference and other aspects of the CWC regime. Although “at the moment, everyone is more or less content,” the 2011 decision does not necessarily mean there is universal agreement that the issue of having missed the 2012 deadline is “off the agenda,” as some countries will press to speed up the weapons destruction process, he said. But he cautioned against “overstat[ing]” the significance of Iran’s opposition to the decision and ultimate vote against it.

Some issues have proved more intractable. Eight countries are not parties to the CWC, with three of them—Egypt, Israel, and Syria—in the Middle East. Syria’s chemical weapons, which are now a source of international concern as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad appears to be losing ground to opposition forces, were seen as a counterweight to Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal. Israel is the only country in the region that is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Egypt has made its accession to the CWC contingent on certain Israeli actions, including accession to the NPT.

Even in the long term, those countries will “pose difficulties” for the goal of universal membership as “they have all made a conscious political decision to stay out” of the CWC, the OPCW report said.

Trapp, who now is an independent consultant on chemical and biological weapons disarmament, said in the interview that he is “quite skeptical” about the prospects for the three countries to join the CWC “in isolation” from other steps in confidence building and arms control. Putting the issue in the context of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) would at least “provide a way into the discussion,” he said, although he acknowledged that pursuing that route would mean that success, if it ever came, would lie far in the future.

A conference on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East was supposed to take place last year, but has been postponed. (See ACT, December 2012.)

With regard to the overall approach to the review conference, Trapp said it was important to make a clear distinction between the work of the review conference and that of the annual meetings. At the review conference, the CWC parties should step back, take a strategic view, and designate priorities, he said. For example, the parties could focus on the OPCW’s ability to investigate potential indications of national noncompliance or on enhancements of the system to verify that industrial chemical facilities are in compliance with the treaty, but should concentrate on agreeing on broad objectives rather than trying to resolve all the fine details needed to reach these goals, he said.

Üzümcü’s concluding remarks in the secretariat’s report list several goals to pursue, including the establishment of a more “effective and efficient verification mechanism.” Trapp said Üzümcü’s list represented the approach that he had in mind.

Other issues highlighted by the OPCW, Trapp, and other analysts include the use of incapacitating chemical agents, which are sometimes used by law enforcement agencies, and the OPCW’s need to keep pace with scientific and technological advances.

As the 188 states-parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) prepare for the next treaty review conference in April, current and former officials of the international body charged with implementing the pact say treaty members and that body have overcome some of the most difficult issues facing the 1997 treaty but should take additional steps to strengthen the CWC regime in the years ahead

Meeting on Middle East WMD Postponed

Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner

A conference scheduled for December on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East is being postponed, the conveners said late last month in separate statements that suggested disagreement among them on when the conference could take place and why it was postponed.

At the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were designated as the organizers of a 2012 conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. The decision to hold the conference was critical to the NPT parties’ agreement on their meeting’s final document. (See ACT, June 2010.)

The meeting on the WMD-free zone later was scheduled for this December in Helsinki, with Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava as conference facilitator.

The U.S. statement on the postponement, issued Nov. 23 by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, said that the United States remains committed to convening the conference, but gave no timeline for a rescheduled meeting. In a Nov. 27 interview, a State Department official said that the United States would like to see it held “as soon as possible” but that timing is not the reason for the postponement.

The obstacle is disagreement among states in the region on the broad, underlying “core issues,” such as the agenda and “modalities” of the conference, he said. To move forward, the states must “engage each other” to reach an agreement on these “fundamental differences,” he said. Nuland’s statement also cited “present conditions in the Middle East” as a reason for postponement.

Statements issued Nov. 24 by the United Kingdom and Russia, however, both called for the conference to be held in 2013, with Russia specifying that a new date no later than April should be “fixed right now.” In his statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was looking for the conference to take place “at the earliest opportunity in 2013.”

Russia also said in its statement that the “organizational modalities and substance” of the conference are at an “advanced stage.” The statement indicated that the meeting was postponed because not all of the states in the region had agreed to participate. “[S]everal extra months would be enough for proper preparation,” the statement said.

Acknowledging the differences between the U.S. and Russian statements, the U.S. official said, “I don’t share [the Russians’] optimism.”

In a Nov. 28 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Russian diplomat said his government had “insisted [on] fulfilling the mandate” from 2010 to hold the conference in 2012. “Other conveners had the same understanding” and worked to achieve that goal, he said. But under the current circumstances, “[a]lthough our position remains unchanged, we feel that the conference may be postponed upon request from regional countries,” he said.

Officials and analysts from many countries have said that attendance by Iran and Israel is crucial for the conference.

Israel has not publicly committed to attending the meeting. Iran announced on Nov. 6 that it would participate, but it is unclear if the decision to postpone the meeting already had been made at that point.

Some observers have speculated that Iran might have made the announcement knowing that the meeting would not be held so that it could lay blame for the postponement on Israel. The State Department official described the Iranian announcement as a “calculated decision.”

He said the decision on whether to delay the conference was an “evolving discussion,” and that, in late October and early November, it started becoming clear that the meeting could not take place in December. Laajava consulted states in the region while these discussions were ongoing, the official said.

In an Oct. 8 statement at the UN General Assembly First Committee, the Arab League said that all its members would attend the planned December conference. (See ACT, November 2012.)

Delay Called Unsurprising

The news of the conference postponement was first reported Nov. 10 by the Associated Press.

In a Nov. 12 interview with Arms Control Today, an Egyptian diplomat said he was not surprised by the decision. Although he acknowledged that current conflicts within the region would make convening a conference difficult, the parties cannot “hold out for a perfect environment” in the Middle East, he said.

He said that domestic difficulties are preventing Egypt from taking actions to “push for the conference.” This has had an effect on political will in the region, given Egypt’s central role in leading the Arab League’s efforts on the zone’s creation in the past, he said. Similar domestic concerns are preoccupying other states in the Arab League and preventing them from devoting resources to pushing for a meeting, although they all support creating a WMD-free zone, he said.

After the conveners announced that the conference would be postponed, Laajava issued a statement expressing regret that the conference would not be taking place in 2012 and calling for “multilateral consultations” to be held as soon as possible to continue efforts to “prepare the ground” for a future meeting.

Regional Responses

Statements issued by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the Arab League after the conveners announced the postponement pointed to Israel as the cause for the delay.

On Nov. 25, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Egypt “refuses the announced excuses” for the postponement of the December meeting. The statement referred to the “non-constructive attitudes” toward the conference by a state that is not an NPT party. Israel is the only country in the region that is not a party to that treaty.

In a Nov. 25 statement, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said the group rejects “any attempts” to postpone the conference and that Israel is the only country in the region that has not expressed “willingness to participate” in the December meeting.

But an Israeli official said in a Nov. 11 interview that other countries in the region expressed concern about convening the conference in December. The official said it was determined “some time ago” that Israel would “likely not attend” a meeting if it were held in December because of current conditions in the region, but that the Israeli government supports the goals of the zone.

The Egyptian statement said postponing the conference is a “breach of the decision” at the 2010 NPT Review Conference to hold the conference in 2012 and that the decision would have “negative consequences on the review process.”

The State Department official said that if the conference is not held before next April’s NPT preparatory committee meeting, it will be a “big issue” and an even bigger one if the event has not taken place by the 2015 NPT Review Conference.

A conference scheduled for December on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East is being postponed, the conveners said late last month in separate statements that suggested disagreement among them on when the conference could take place and why it was postponed.

Post-2014 Nuclear Security Mulled

Daniel Horner and Kelsey Davenport

Nuclear security summits held in 2010 and this year have achieved a great deal by focusing world leaders’ attention on the issue of securing nuclear materials, but there are ways to preserve much of that focus once the series of summits ends, a senior U.S. nuclear policy official said last month.

Speaking Nov. 5 in Arlington, Va., Laura Holgate, senior director for weapons of mass destruction terrorism and threat reduction at the National Security Council, said a main U.S. goal is to “leave behind a strengthened web of treaties, institutions, norms, and practices that will reliably secure nuclear materials.” She emphasized the roles of international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and of national regulatory bodies.

The first nuclear security summit, which sprang from a commitment President Barack Obama made in his April 2009 Prague speech on nuclear weapons policy, took place in Washington in April 2010. The second one was in Seoul last March.

Officials from the United States and other countries have made it clear that the biennial summits will not continue indefinitely and have raised the possibility that the next summit, scheduled for 2014 in the Netherlands, will be the last. (See ACT, November 2011.)

In comments earlier this year on the question of how long the summits would continue, Holgate said the benefits of “leader engagement” would have to be weighed against the possibility of “leader fatigue.”

In her Nov. 5 remarks, Holgate said one of the main U.S. goals for the summits has been “the personal engagement of leaders on an issue where they owe their citizens their highest commitment.” In describing the Seoul summit, she said the leaders were “focused, on-point, and highlighting tangible progress over platitudes and generalities.”

Asked how to maintain high-level attention to nuclear security after the summits end, Holgate said one step is to “raise the capability and the profile and the durability” of existing institutions.

She pointed to a conference that the IAEA is planning to hold in Vienna, where the agency is based, next July 1-5 on nuclear security. Holgate said there is talk of holding the meeting every three years and having one day of the week-long event include ministerial-level participants. “We’ll certainly use our voice in Vienna to promote that,” she said.

According to the IAEA’s meeting announcement, one purpose of the conference will be to help the agency prepare its next Nuclear Security Plan, which would cover the years 2014-2017. The target audience includes “senior government officials” and other “high[-]level participants from all of the areas and agencies involved in making policy for and managing nuclear security,” the announcement said.

In a Nov. 14 interview, a Vienna-based diplomat said planning for the July meeting is in the relatively early stages and that issues such as the exact level of the participation are “still to be determined.”

Stronger IAEA Role

Andrew Semmel, a deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation under President George W. Bush, said in a Nov. 19 interview that the IAEA could play a major role in establishing a global framework for nuclear security. He said the 2014 summit could “set into motion” a process toward agreement on such a framework, which would set security standards, outline monitoring mechanisms, and provide states with the assistance needed to implement the framework’s provisions.

Semmel, now an independent consultant whose clients include the IAEA, said the agency is the “logical mechanism” to implement this framework agreement, which he said should lead to a legally binding treaty.

U.S. officials have said they do not think the effort to strengthen nuclear security around the world requires additional legal instruments.

Semmel, who also was a panelist at the Nov. 5 meeting, acknowledged in the interview that getting the “buy-in” from states for moving toward binding standards would be difficult, and he identified steps short of a treaty that could be taken at the 2014 summit to strengthen the IAEA. Specifically, he said that the IAEA needs “more authority and resources.”

The nuclear security system would be enhanced if the IAEA had a mandate for peer reviews that required states to fix any reported deficiencies, he said. The lack of such a mandate is the “single biggest obstacle” impeding the IAEA’s ability to strengthen nuclear security, he said. Under the current system, states request various services, including peer reviews or assistance from the IAEA, but are not obligated to follow through on the agency’s recommendations.

Semmel also said that the 2014 summit should encourage states to budget more resources “without earmarks” for the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund, which is mostly funded by voluntary contributions.

The idea of shifting responsibility for nuclear security from the summit process to the IAEA also has drawn support from other quarters. In a Nov. 16 interview, an official from an Arab country that participated in the Washington and Seoul meetings expressed concern that continuing the summit process would lead to the development of nuclear security standards that impede “access to nuclear technology.” The process should be handed over to the IAEA after the 2014 summit because the agency has “more universal representation,” he said.

The Vienna-based diplomat said that although there has been “some discussion” of giving the IAEA major responsibility for sustaining global efforts on nuclear security, the agency is “a long way from any formal decisions” on that topic.

The Arab official said his country would like to see a greater emphasis at the 2014 summit on securing high-intensity radiological sources. Too narrow a focus on fissile material makes the summit “less relevant” to many participating states, he said. Radiological source security was added to the agenda for the 2012 summit, but participating officials have said it did not receive much attention in Seoul.

Other Institutions

In addition to the IAEA, Holgate cited the United Nations and Interpol, through its Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Unit, as other organizations that could help maintain a global focus on nuclear security. Those three organizations, as well as the European Union, sent representatives to the Seoul summit. Holgate also highlighted the role of “informal institutions” such as the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

Another key part of keeping nuclear security as a high priority is the work of national regulatory agencies, she said. Holgate pointed to a planned Dec. 4-6 conference in Rockville, Md., on nuclear security for regulators from around the world, as part of the U.S. effort to raise the profile of that aspect of the issue. She noted that John Brennan, Obama’s chief aide on homeland security and counterterrorism, is scheduled to be one of the keynote speakers.

Brennan’s participation is “intended to signal the level of seriousness” that the United States is putting into an event that otherwise could be seen as “kind of a parochial, trade-level, or lower-level engagement,” she said. IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano also is scheduled to deliver a keynote address to the conference.

“If we can find another country to host a second and a third and a fourth of those regulatory conferences, I think that will contribute strongly to the implementation and durability of security around the world,” Holgate said.

Nuclear security summits held in 2010 and this year have achieved a great deal by focusing world leaders’ attention on the issue of securing nuclear materials, but there are ways to preserve much of that focus once the series of summits ends, a senior U.S. nuclear policy official said last month.

CTBTO Picks Lassina Zerbo as Next Head

Marcus Taylor and Daniel Horner

The member states of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) last month chose Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso to succeed Tibor Tóth as executive secretary when Tóth’s term expires next year.

After the vote at its headquarters in Vienna, the CTBTO, which is building the monitoring system that would verify compliance with the 1996 treaty banning all nuclear tests, announced the selection in an Oct. 23 press release. Zerbo is currently the director of the CTBTO’s International Data Centre Division, a position he has held since November 2004.

Zerbo is the first non-European to head the CTBTO. Tóth is Hungarian, and his predecessor, Wolfgang Hoffmann, is German.

Of the five candidates (see box), Zerbo was one of two without significant experience as a diplomat, a rare circumstance for someone assuming leadership of a major international organization. Before holding his position with the CTBTO data center, Zerbo worked as a senior geophysicist at a number of mineral companies. He holds degrees in fundamental and applied geology and in geophysics from several universities in France, including a Ph.D. in geophysics from the Université de Paris-Sud.

The executive secretary’s term is four years. Hoffmann and Tóth were elected to two terms. Tóth’s term ends on July 31, 2013.

The CTBTO press release did not provide details of the election, but a former CTBTO official said there was a series of votes, with the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes eliminated in each round. The first three rounds eliminated, in order, Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan of Mongolia, Hein Haak of the Netherlands, and Libran Cabactulan of the Philippines, the former official said.

That left Zerbo and Alfredo Alessandro Labbé Villa of Chile. In the fourth round, Zerbo received a majority of the votes, but fell short of the required two-thirds majority, the former official said. At that point, however, Labbé Villa requested that the CTBTO declare Zerbo the winner, the former official said.

Tóth had been “grooming Zerbo, in a way,” by providing him with “a fair amount of visibility,” the former official said. On top of qualifications such as his technical background and his public speaking ability, Zerbo is “from a part of the world that does not serve frequently as head of international organizations,” an important consideration because the position of executive secretary is supposed to rotate among regional groups, the former official said.

In an Oct. 23 press release, the U.S. State Department said Zerbo has displayed the “management skills, technical skills, and diplomatic acumen needed for the position” of executive secretary. In a statement e-mailed to Arms Control Today on Oct. 24, Nils Daag, the permanent representative of Sweden to international organizations in Vienna, said, “We are confident that he will be able to carry on and build on” Tóth’s efforts.

A key part of Zerbo’s job will be to oversee completion of the CTBTO’s International Monitoring System, which is designed to detect nuclear explosions. Of the system’s planned 337 monitoring stations, 272 are now in place, 15 are undergoing testing, 22 are under construction, and 28 are planned.

Another facet of the CTBTO’s mandate is to promote membership in the treaty, which cannot enter into force until a specified group of 44 states, listed in Annex 2 of the pact, ratify the treaty. Eight of those states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—have not done so.

Candidates for CTBTO Executive Secretary

At a meeting last month at its headquarters in Vienna, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) elected Lassina Zerbo as executive secretary. There were five candidates for the position.

  • Jargalsaikhany Enkhsaikhan (Mongolia): Enkhsaikhan has been Mongolia’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna since 2008. He is also the chairperson on administration for Working Group A of the CTBTO, which deals with the budget and other administrative issues of the organization.

  • Hein Haak (Netherlands): Haak has been the chairperson on verification for the CTBTO since 2006. He is also the head of the Division of Seismology at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and was a member of the group of scientific experts on the scientific basis for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He represented the Netherlands during negotiations on the CTBT.

  • Libran Cabactulan (Philippines): Cabactulan is the ambassador of the Philippines to the United Nations. He was president of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference and served as assistant secretary for disarmament and nonproliferation in the Department of Foreign Affairs for the Philippines from 2009 to 2010.

  • Alfredo Alessandro Labbé Villa (Chile): Labbé Villa is the permanent representative of Chile to the United Nations in Vienna and the Chilean ambassador to Austria. Prior to his appointment to that post in 2010, he was the director for international and human security in the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

  • Lassina Zerbo (Burkina Faso): Zerbo has served as the director of the International Data Centre Division of the CTBTO since 2004. Before that, he held senior positions as a geophysicist for the Anglo American mining company in Africa.—MARCUS TAYLOR


The CTBTO’s member states chose Lassina Zerbo of Burkina Faso as the organization’s next executive secretary. Zerbo is to succeed Tibor Tóth in August 2013.

Strains Seen in Japan’s Plutonium Policy

Daniel Horner

Japan’s recently proposed energy strategy is not clear on how to address fundamental policy questions on the country’s approach to spent nuclear fuel, reprocessing, and plutonium use, a Japanese official and a U.S. nuclear expert said in interviews last month.

On Sept. 14, the Japanese government issued an energy strategy document that contemplates the phase-out of nuclear power by about 2040. A cabinet decision five days later made clear that the strategy document did not constitute a binding policy decision, and the strategy could be scrapped entirely if the current Japanese government falls from power in the upcoming elections, which are expected to take place by next summer.

The new energy strategy is part of Japan’s response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors on March 11, 2011.

For decades, a central part of Japan’s nuclear plans has been what energy and nonproliferation specialists call “closing the fuel cycle.” That involves reprocessing the spent fuel from power reactors to separate plutonium that is then used in making fresh fuel for reactors.

The strategy document says “it is necessary…to tackle squarely” the question of what to do with spent fuel, but does not make specific commitments in that regard. It commits Japan to “continu[ing] its present nuclear fuel cycle policy,” although it adds a few caveats.

“We have not decided anything important” with regard to the plutonium program, the Japanese official said in an Oct. 25 interview. In fact, he said, the policy contains some “contradictory” elements.

For example, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, where Japan plans to reprocess spent fuel from its power plants, has been authorized to operate beyond the year 2050, but the strategy does not explain how reprocessing will continue if the nuclear power plants that would consume the plutonium separated at Rokkasho have been shut down, he said.

The Rokkasho plant has faced many problems and has not begun commercial operation; the current estimate for its startup is October 2013. Japan has shipped much of its spent fuel to France and the United Kingdom for reprocessing. Of the approximately 44 metric tons of separated plutonium that Japan owns, about nine metric tons are in Japan, with the remaining 35 metric tons roughly evenly split between the two European reprocessors, according to the most recent figures released by Japan.

International Sensitivities

In an Oct. 19 interview, Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists, said Japanese officials are “acutely aware” of the potential concerns in Asia and elsewhere raised by the plutonium surplus. There have been “numerous discussions” with the U.S. government on the issue, said Ferguson, who is co-chairman of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation’s U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group.

Japanese media have reported that, at a meeting in September, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman encouraged Japanese officials to minimize the amount of plutonium they stockpiled.

In an Oct. 17 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a Poneman aide declined to comment on “the specifics of diplomatic discussions.” With regard to the U.S. policy on reprocessing and plutonium use, she said it is up to the Japanese government to make the decision and “the United States is eager to help in any way Japan finds useful as it explores its future approach to nuclear power.” The United States has proposed that the two countries discuss “the non-proliferation and security aspects of the new nuclear energy policy,” she said.

Domestic Commitments

Ferguson and the Japanese official stressed that the domestic politics of Japan’s fuel cycle are complicated and likely to play a major role in whatever decision the country ultimately makes in that area.

As the two men described it, one of the inducements to the residents of Aomori to agree to host the Rokkasho plant was that it would not become a long-term repository for spent fuel and radioactive waste. Yet, the official said, nuclear operators in Japan also made a commitment to the localities hosting nuclear power plants that they would not have to store spent fuel on-site indefinitely and could transfer it eventually to a reprocessing plant such as the Rokkasho facility. That combination of commitments does not give policymakers much latitude on fuel cycle policy, regardless of what decisions they make with regard to nuclear power, he said.

In addition to plutonium, reprocessing produces so-called high-level waste, which also requires a repository. A key question for Japanese fuel-cycle policy is where the country will decide to locate this facility, Ferguson said.

In part because of the uncertainties about the size of the Japanese reactor fleet in the coming years, it is unclear how rapidly the separated plutonium could be consumed. Ferguson and the official said one option being discussed is to develop fast-neutron reactors, which are capable of “breeding” more plutonium than they consume but also can be used to “burn” plutonium more efficiently than light-water reactors can.

Japan’s recently proposed energy strategy is seen by some as unclear on how to address fundamental policy questions on the country’s approach to spent nuclear fuel, reprocessing, and plutonium use.


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