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June 2, 2022
Secretary Kerry Determined to "Reopen and Re-Energize" CTBT Debate
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Arms Control NOW

Secretary of State John Kerry refocused attention on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and its value to U.S. security with remarks about the treaty at an Oct. 21 event. He said that "in the months to come, we're going to reopen and re-energize the conversation about the treaty on Capitol Hill and throughout our nation."

Kerry delivered his remarks at an event hosted by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of President Bill Clinton's 1995 declaration to pursue a zero-yield Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The event also featured a range of speakers from the NNSA, the Defense Department, the directors of all three major nuclear national laboratories, and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

Speakers focused on the successes of the Stockpile Stewardship Program over the past 20 years. Secretary Moniz, NNSA Administrator Lt. General Frank Klotz (ret.), and all three current lab directors noted that the scientists now know more about nuclear weapons through the Stockpile Stewardship Program than they did during the era of nuclear explosive testing. Secretary Kerry closed the event with a reminder that "it's thanks to [Department of Energy] and its laboratories that we have answers to every question and a much stronger case to make than we’ve ever had before."

Thank you very much for that. Ernie, thank you. Thank you for your warm introduction, but thank you most importantly for celebrating these 20 years and for your tremendous engagement. We sort of drafted Ernie late as we got into the really technical portions of the negotiation. And he – it proved to be one of the best draft choices we’ve ever made. (Laughter.) He performed extraordinarily, and there was something special about the fact that the head of the Atomic Energy Agency in Iran, Salehi, had gone to MIT. And so these two MIT nerds – (Laughter.) – got together and just sort of bonded as well. And I hope I don’t get him in trouble by saying that. Nobody will report that in Iran, will you? But it really became an effective component of our ability to move forward.

So Ernie, thank you for that, and thanks for a few really good bottles of wine occasionally in the evening. When we had a moment off, we discovered a few good restaurants, and it wasn’t all pain, but a lot. (Laughter.) I didn’t know we had so many people who cared about the stockpile program as all of you. (Laughter.) I’m impressed. Rose, we have to do more. (Laughter.) All right. Rose Gottemoeller, everybody, who does a superb job for the State Department. (Applause.)

And it’s really good – we were able to team up the two warriors from Massachusetts. Ernie took his warrior-ism to a greater extent than I did because he has been determined to look like a colonial warrior all of his life. (Laughter.) But this was really one of the great pleasures of my years of public service to work with Ernie on this. And it’s a pleasure to come here to the Navy Memorial. I got waylaid on the way in. Somebody pointed out on the wall that there was a plaque there with my award of the 1999 Lone Sailor Award, which I was pleased to get and I didn’t – I’ve never seen it before up there and I saw to the left of it was President John Kennedy, who – another son of Massachusetts, obviously, who received it the same here posthumously. And then I looked to the left of that and there was John Wayne. So I made it, folks. (Laughter.) President Kennedy and John Wayne – it doesn’t get better. It doesn’t get better.

So I want to just come here with a very simple, straightforward message, two words: Thank you. Thanks to Secretary Moniz and his team for the indispensable role they played, obviously, in the negotiations, but much more than that for the extraordinary Energy Department that Ernie is the steward of that has done an extraordinary job in helping us to pull together what we accomplished in this Iran deal, and I’ll just say a quick word about it.

Just three days ago we observed what we call adoption day, which is the official moment when the 90 days had expired from the congressional review process, and it’s formally in effect. And as you saw maybe today the ayatollah – supreme ayatollah – formally embraced the agreement, which he hadn’t done yet. And so this is for real. And it is really the start of the most far-reaching readjustment to a nuclear program since the dawn of the nuclear age. There are going to be the mothballing of some 12,000 centrifuges, there will be the shipment abroad of 98 percent of the stockpile of Iran’s enriched uranium, and there will be the destruction of the core of the so-called Arak nuclear plutonium reactor, heavy-water reactor, and that is a huge accomplishment in the context of this, which will redesign – which cannot begin construction without the United States and China signing off on it. And we will work with China with respect to the design.

So there are really enormously far-reaching components of this agreement. We designed a way to bring cloture to the process of inspection. One of the problems always has been that we never could get the IAEA inquiries answered, and nor could we get the inspection. And so we said we’re not going to go through that. We’re going to have cloture to that process and you’re at risk of having all the sanctions come back if you don’t grant the access that we are due. And there was a big fight, as you know, over the Hill about the number of days that might expire in that effort.

But what’s important is today it’s open-ended. There’s no expiration. Now we have an expiration, and the outside of that expiration is the 24 days. It could happen within 24 hours or more slightly, but it depends on how badly they want to avoid a resurgence of the sanctions and comply. I believe they’re going to comply, because I don’t think any country destroys two-thirds of its centrifuges and ships out its enrichment and negates its R&D on advanced centrifuges and does a whole lot of things unless, in fact, they intend to try to comply.

Now, proof will be in the pudding. It’s obviously no secret this was very controversial, but I hope that everyone who was for the agreement and everyone who was opposed to the agreement can at least come together now to support its full and verifiable implementation. That is what is key. And I am convinced that the United States – as is Ernie – that the United States, the region, our allies and friends in the region, will all be safer as a consequence of this agreement, which fundamental precept is Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon, and if we verify it properly and stay alert, we have the ability to be able to make that a guarantee.

It doesn’t mean they may not try to go out and break out, but if they do we believe we’re going to know it because we have an unprecedented level of tracking including 25 years of cradle-to-grave tracking of their entire uranium production, 20 years with television of centrifuge production, and 15 years of limitations on the size of their stockpile, which has to stay at 300 kilograms and the enrichment level at 3.67 percent. All of that is verifiable. So it’s an enormous step forward, and Ernie, I thank you for your terrific partnership in helping to get there.

I want to thank the Energy Department and the laboratories for everything they have done to be able to make this 20th celebration what it is and what brings you all here today. Years ago when I served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I remember expert witnesses coming before the committee to tell us there was no way possible except through explosive tests to be sure that our stockpile would perform in the way that we needed to know it would to have the deterrence that we sought. And as you all know too well because you helped do it, as you might hear on a playground somewhere in America, “No way,” turned into, “Way,” – (Laughter.) – because the word that DOE and its labs have done. It is that simple.

Through the Stockpile Stewardship Program – I remember when that emerged and evolved and we got going at it – we now have the ability to simulate performance without explosive testing, which is obviously a benefit to the environment, a benefit to our security, and extremely helpful in the context of America’s global leadership. And the SSP made it much easier for President Obama, for instance, four years ago in Prague to commit our nation to a continued reduction in nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal of their elimination worldwide.

Now, I know when you say that everybody goes, “Ah, that’s utterly impossible. It’s never going to happen.” But it’s not inconsequential that Robert Gates and Jim Symington and Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and people who have dealt with this issue at the most serious level in the most serious way all of their lives have all agreed – Henry Kissinger – that the world would be better off if we can get there. And what it presupposes is a new way of thinking. It anticipates the notion that humankind ultimately can get to a very special place where conflict resolution is done differently and where our options are different. And it behooves all of us to imagine that. Not going to happen tomorrow. We know that. We all understand deterrence, and once the genie is out of the bottle, how do you put it back in. But if you have a different way of resolving conflicts, ultimately, and if we perfect what we all seek to try to perfect, it’s a worthy goal. Because every step you take towards that goal makes you safer. And that’s an important way to look at it.

So we have committed our nation to a continued reduction of nuclear weapons, and overall, global nuclear stockpiles have already been reduced by 86 percent – just think about that. We can all remember when there were 50,000 warheads pointed in both directions between us and the former Soviet Union until that improbable moment when Gorbachev and Reagan came out from that meeting and said we’re going to go to zero, and of course, people went – they both lost their minds. (Laughter.) The – but we’re moving in the right direction, folks, and President Obama and I and Ernie want to start, want to continue to move below where we are under the START agreement, which I had the privilege of leading the ratification of on the Senate floor.

So the SSP helps ensure that until the day of elimination comes, we can be confident that our stockpile will be safe and effective and reliable, and that’s what’s critical to deterrence. And because we no longer have to conduct the explosive tests, we’re able to build an even more compelling set of arguments on behalf of U.S. approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Now, the CTBT was last considered by the Senate – and I remember this well and was deeply engaged in that debate – more than 16 years ago under Senate procedures that absolutely prevented a full and fair presentation and discussion. The treaty nevertheless commanded a near majority, even though at that time, it was still in the planning stages, the SSP. So now it’s in place and now it’s working, now we know what it can do, now we’ve progressed and perfected, in essence, our understanding of the virtue of this approach. And thus, we have removed the single greatest blockade to approval of the CTBT – actually, maybe I ought to say the second single biggest because the first is literally the lack of knowledge of a whole bunch of senators who have never, ever negotiated or been involved in a debate about arms control. When I was in the Senate, I aspired to be on the Senate nuclear oversight group. It was a small group – Sam Nunn and Ted Kennedy, John Warner, a group of folks – and finally, by seniority, I earned my way on it, and lo and behold, the issue kind of disappeared – (Laughter.) – obviously because I got on it. (Laughter.) No.

But I look at the Senate today and I would suspect – I mean, I think if Thad Cochran and Orrin Hatch and Pat Leahy and people – they’ve been around in those – they know the subject. But you’d be amazed, I mean, just – if you’re not dealing with it and you’re not working at it, then the quick bumper stickers that come at you can deter you from even taking it up. And that’s been the problem. Probably 85 – I’m guessing at the number, but I’d say somewhere like 85, a few of the folks who are in the House maybe came over – Harry Reid, some others – but I’ll bet you there are 85 folks up there or so for whom this is first instance. And that’s a hurdle. So our job is to educate; your job is to educate. We got to start having hearings, we got to start having scientists come back up and restate the case.

And a second factor that has changed since 1999 is our ability to tell with confidence whether or not other countries that have agreed to refrain from nuclear explosive tests are, in fact, keeping their word. And here again, we have the Energy Department to thank. They’ve been leading players in creating and implementing a verification regime that’s one of the great scientific accomplishments of recent times.

And the International Monitoring System was literally just a concept 20 years ago. Today, it’s nearly complete, technically advanced, a global network of sensors that can detect even low-yield nuclear explosions. And the system has already shown what it can do with valuable data on the three nuclear tests that were conducted by North Korea, not to mention the information that we’ve been able to generate on tsunamis, on meteor strikes, on tracking radioactivity from nuclear reactor accidents.

So because of this work, we could enter the CTBT tomorrow with all of the state-of-the-art equipment and techniques that we need to verify whether a nuclear explosion has occurred in violation of the treaty. And these two critical changes in our technology – much better simulation techniques and a much stronger verification regime – provide irrefutable answers to the major questions that people had about the CTBT.

So we really checked the two most important boxes, folks. And you can answer the question: Can we be sure that our nuclear arsenal is reliable and safe? And can we be sure that we will know if others try to cheat? That was the blockade. And the bad news, of course, is that today, almost 20 years after it was opened for signature, the CTBT remains eight ratifications short of entry into force and the United States is part of this unhappy group of eight.

So I am determined that in the months to come, we’re going to reopen and re-energize the conversation about the treaty on Capitol Hill and throughout our nation. Because there should be no doubt that it is in the best interests of our country to join the treaty and to urge others not to wait, but to go ahead and do so themselves as soon as possible.

The factors that led some senators to oppose the treaty in 1999 have changed. And so choices should change as well. As former Secretary of State George Shultz said, “Senators might have been right voting against the CTBT some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now.” And the United States obviously derives huge benefits from a strong global nuclear nonproliferation regime, and I don’t have to convince anybody here that the test ban is a central part of exactly that.

So joining the treaty would be consistent with our own obligations under the NPT, which is the foundational document of international arms control and a central underpinning of the nuclear agreement with Iran. And by acceding to the treaty, we would increase our leverage and our credibility, impressing other countries not to engage in illicit nuclear activities and to accept more rigorous safeguards, such as the Additional Protocol. In fact, one of the things that I think may come out of this negotiation we just had is some amendment to the Additional Protocol, even, that is built on some of the structure that we built into the agreement.

So folks, just to close out here, 19 years ago, President Clinton called the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty the “longest-sought, hardest-fought prize in arms control history.” Today, we actually continue to seek that prize and to fight for it. And it’s thanks to DOE and its laboratories that we have answers to every question and a much stronger case to make than we’ve ever had before. For that, I congratulate every single person connected to that effort, and I hope that each of us will spread the word that with new technology, America’s best interests on our side, approval of the CTBT is a fight that we can and will win.

So thank you once again for inviting me here today. I urge everyone, keep the faith, and I know you’ll keep the fight. Appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)