Interview with Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John S. Wolf

May 13, 2004
Wade Boese and Miles Pomper

ACT: The U.S. theme at the recently concluded NPT PrepCom was that a crisis of noncompliance currently exists with regard to the treaty. Could you briefly discuss the magnitude of the problem and what the US solutions are to resolving it?

Wolf: In the last dozen years or so, we have seen North Korea fail to comply with its safeguards obligations, violating its Article II and III NPT obligations. We have seen Libya admit to having had a nuclear weapons program. (See ACT, March 2004.) We have seen clear evidence of Iranian violations which in our view constitute Article II and III violations: the clandestine nature of their program, the unwillingness to respond to repeated calls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) [to resolve questions about the Iranian nuclear program], and the continuing clandestine nature of part of their program. The whole question of the A.Q. Khan network, which has shown that nonstate parties are capable of gathering and selling sensitive nuclear technologies, up to and including nuclear weapons designs (see ACT, March 2004). The treaty was put together by state-parties determined to end the increasing number of countries that had nuclear weapons. That's not to mention states that are outside the NPT, which are repeatedly talked about: India, Pakistan, and Israel. So, the treaty, which has three parts-disarmament, peaceful uses, and nonproliferation-can't be successful if the core principle, the one that creates confidence in the international community, is being violated, and it's the compliance pillar that's being violated. That (lack of compliance) clearly will have an impact on other aspects of the treaty.

ACT: How do we bolster the compliance pillar then?

Wolf: We're doing a variety of things to bolster compliance. First of all, we think it's important for the world community to be clear and categorical that it's determined not to see an expansion in the number of countries with nuclear weapons. The six-party process in Asia looks at the North Korean nuclear weapons program and says that the only acceptable solution is complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of [North Korea's] weapons and nuclear programs. The insistent demand by the international community and the IAEA that Iran end its noncompliance and return to compliance is a first step, but I think it will take more than just the IAEA. It will take the international community writ large making clear to Iran that it faces two choices. If [Iran] chooses to continue down the nuclear weapons path, it will face increasing political and economic isolation. The alternative is to give up that path and be restored as a reputable member of the international community. Libya chose the benefits of coming clean. The work we are doing to root out the A.Q. Khan network makes clear that we are not prepared to accept those kinds of networks.

Then comes a whole set of things revolving around the president's proposals of February 11. (See ACT, March 2004.) There is an increasingly widespread belief that the sensitive nuclear technologies related to enrichment and reprocessing should not spread horizontally. We need to continue to strengthen the safeguards capabilities of the IAEA. We did that with a budget increase for the current biennium. We are doing that by looking to see the Additional Protocol become the new universal standard [for safeguards]. We hope that Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) countries will agree not to sell nuclear technology to countries that don't have in place an additional protocol or certainly haven't signed one by 2005. We believe there are some IAEA management reforms that could also be pursued.

Resolution 1540, which [the UN Security Council] passed a couple of weeks ago, was a clarion call to the international community that every country has to raise the levels of its export controls and improve the nature of its enforcement. (See ACT, May 2004.) A.Q. Khan's successes make clear that it's possible even with good export controls to export, buy, and assemble sensitive nuclear technology. That's an enforcement question and a sharing of information question. We will use the Proliferation Security Initiative increasingly as another active tool to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction-nuclear, chemical, and biological-and the means to deliver. [Those are several] things in motion to raise international standards, improve enforcement, and stop shipments of proliferation technologies as they occur.

ACT: Speaking of Resolution 1540, the United States persuaded other countries to accept it on the basis that it was aimed at nonstate actors. However, as you just noted in your remarks, it will require actions by states to toughen their export control laws, so it will be states that will ultimately be held accountable under the resolution. What are the standards to measure whether states live up to their responsibilities under Resolution1540, and what are the consequences if they do not?

Wolf: The resolution seeks to improve export controls and enforcement measures to stop nonstate parties from acquiring dangerous weapons and technologies. I would submit that the resolution also looks at state-state transactions, as well as state-nonstate transactions. There's a whole universe of state-state, state-nonstate, nonstate-nonstate, nonstate-state [transactions], and all of those need to be covered by comprehensive export controls and rigorous enforcement. We're not any safer if it's state proliferation to another state. We're certainly not safer if it's North Korea shipping weapons technology to Iran or if Iran is acquiring weapons technologies through state purchasing agencies.

ACT: At the PrepCom, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton noted that there have been "at least four" recent cases of NPT noncompliance.

Wolf: I left out Iraq.

ACT: Are there additional countries that the United States is looking at?

Wolf: He also said that we don't exclude that there may be one or more countries that have clandestine programs.

ACT: But the United States has not identified those or named their names yet?

Wolf: He said that we have not excluded. We have not said that the ones named are the only ones about which we are concerned.

ACT: At the PrepCom the United States pushed members to judge compliance by intentions rather than capabilities. This would appear to put more of the burden on the accused rather than the accuser to prove its case. Is this a new interpretation of compliance?

Wolf: No. You have to look at both capabilities and intentions. The intentions part covers, for instance, a willingness to dissemble false statements and misdeclarations. All of those have to be in addition to the capabilities, which may be physical. You have to factor in the degree to which a country takes efforts to deceive the international community. North Korea did it. They did it from the get go. They did it when they signed the NPT. They did it in the Agreed Framework. So, you take all that into account. If you look at my PrepCom statements last week, you'll see that I pointed to several cases where Iran said one thing in 2003, only to see it disproved by IAEA inspections during the last nine months. That kind of willful deception ought to be part of what countries take into account. Undersecretary [of State for Arms Control and International Security John] Bolton's speech made clear that, if the test [for determining noncompliance] is simply either seeing a nuclear weapon or seeing a nuclear weapons test, then its far too late for the international community to act.

ACT: The recent PrepCom was intended to provide a set of recommendations for next year's regular five-year treaty Review Conference. However, the meeting concluded with no such recommendations. Why?

Wolf: It was supposed to make efforts to come up with substantive recommendations. PrepComs haven't. It also was supposed to complete work on a number of procedural issues, and it's disappointing that it didn't conclude all procedural work. It did choose a president-elect. It did come up with financing arrangements. It did come up with rules for procedure. But in the end, the Non-Aligned Movement failed to agree to any of several proposals that were on the table on an agenda for the Review Conference. There were at least four, including the chairman's own proposal, that the United States could have supported. So, in a way it's disappointing that we failed to complete that work. It is not surprising that it didn't come up with substantive recommendations. In the history of Review Conferences, that tends to be the kind of thing that gets done at the Review Conference and not before the Review Conference.

The meeting was actually good in terms of the opportunity that it presented to member states to express their views. Thirty-eight countries, I think, expressed concerns about Iran for instance. Many talked about the problems of compliance. Many called for universal adoption of additional protocols, as well as safeguards arrangements for those states that still don't have them. Many countries called for improved export controls.

The United States and other nuclear-weapon states had an opportunity to make the case that disarmament is in fact taking place. We reiterated our commitment to Article VI. We talked about 13,000 weapons dismantled. The Moscow Treaty reductions will lead to an 80 percent reduction in U.S. operationally deployed strategic warheads. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. nonstrategic nuclear weapons have been eliminated since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Over the last 10 years, we have eliminated 1,200 strategic bombers and missiles. No U.S. nuclear tests have taken place since 1992. No fissile material has been produced for 15 years. Nine billion dollars has been spent on Cooperative Threat Reduction [CTR] programs. In the former Soviet Union, over 1,000 ballistic missiles were eliminated, and 6,000 strategic warheads were removed. Seven hundred tons of fissile material have been removed from the weapons stockpiles in Russia and the United States, of which 250 tons of that have been converted to low enriched uranium. In other words, it gave us a chance to make clear that disarmament is proceeding. But the fact is that it also provided us with opportunities to say the problem is not the nuclear-weapon states. It is the failure of some non-nuclear-weapon states to live by their obligations. And the failure by a few puts at risk the benefits for many.

ACT: Nevertheless, as you alluded to, the Non-Aligned Movement and the New Agenda Coalition both criticized the United States for not doing enough on disarmament. And they also identified as one of the reasons for the failure to come up with [Review Conference] recommendations a U.S. reluctance to reaffirm the 13 steps. Does the United States still support the 13 steps?

Wolf: On the first point, it's really interesting that when [the PrepCom was] talking about some of the proposals that the Non-Aligned [Movement] put forward at the last moment, the Russian delegate made the point, for instance, that one of their [Non-Aligned Movement] recommendations is that the nuclear-weapon states should improve reporting. He said that Russia had been providing reports and whenever Russia asked the Non-Aligned Movement, "Well, what do you think of our report? How could it be improved? Where do you see problems?" Russia gets no answers. So, [regarding] this sort of drumbeat about disarmament, some might wonder whether or not people are actually looking at the facts or simply reading the speech from last year without taking account of what happened in the year previous. The CTR programs go forward in Russia and the former Soviet Union; we continue to dismantle strategic weapons systems or they continue to dismantle warheads; we continue to immobilize fissile material, not by the kilo but by the ton; and yet those issues just seem to wander off the table.

ACT: What about with regards to the 13 steps?

Wolf: The 13 steps were an important conclusion to the 2000 Review Conference. But the world moves on and the discussion ought not to be locked in 2000. Some things have been overtaken by events. [The upcoming Review Conference] ought to focus next year on what's relevant for 2005. I will give you one example. One of the 13 steps was the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The United States and the Russian Federation have terminated the ABM Treaty. So, to spend a lot of time debating whether or not we support that step is a real exercise in irrelevance, and we are not prepared to do it. The treaty does not exist anymore. It was a bilateral treaty, and it was ended legally.

ACT: I think we can all agree on the fact that it's no secret that the ABM Treaty is no longer in operation, but what about the other 12 steps?

Wolf: I am not going to wander through the other 12 steps now and go through each one. It just does not serve a purpose. We would prefer to talk about the disarmament we are doing, and we are doing a lot of it. We could return to 2000 and pretend that the next five years did not exist, but we would rather start in 2005, see what the world situation is, and discuss where we go from 2005 forward.

ACT: What would the United States see as a successful outcome to the 2005 NPT conference?

Wolf: It's just critical that the Review Conference takes a strong stand and look at ways in which we can ensure that compliance takes place. A number of discussions will take place between now and then in specific fora, including the IAEA, its Board of Governors, and the NSG. I am not sure that I want to lay out today what our goals are going to be a year from now because I am not sure I can put it in specifics. But we will come back to the theme that we discussed [the last two years], which is that the treaty is put at risk by those few who are failing to meet their obligations and who are seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and weapons capabilities clandestinely.

ACT: Clearly, there is a disconnect between the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states on prioritizing disarmament versus nonproliferation. How can the treaty survive if these two groups of states can't find a way to balance those two objectives?

Wolf: Because none of us have interests in seeing countries like Iran or North Korea have nuclear weapons. All of our security is jeopardized when countries like Iran and North Korea have nuclear weapons programs. What is put at risk for all of us is the ability to continue disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states and peaceful nuclear cooperation because the system just won't be able to continue to operate in the face of mass violations.

ACT: On this theme of getting tough with proliferators, the administration said little when Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pardoned A.Q. Khan for leading the largest black-market proliferation ring ever exposed. Does the administration's blind eye to Khan's lack of punishment undercut the U.S. message on enforcement and compliance?

Wolf: You made at least two assertions that I do not accept. I am not sure that we were silent, and I am not sure that we have turned a blind eye. We expect Pakistan to continue to take vigorous action both to help identify and then to help root out the Khan network. That is a consistent message. It has not changed, and it's repeated to Pakistan at the very highest levels.

ACT: Is there confidence then that the Khan network is shut down, or is that still being worked on?

Wolf: We are working on that.

ACT: Pakistan has been very resistant to allowing outside governments or international inspectors into its territory. How can you have confidence that it is fulfilling the needs of shutting down this network if there is not access to their weapons programs, their officials, or to Khan himself?

Wolf: Both through our dialogue with [Pakistan] and through other means. I think we will have a good view as to whether or not they are cooperating. The Khan network is not limited to Pakistan, and so we are active with the United Kingdom, the IAEA, and others in a variety of countries to deal with people and entities elsewhere around the world.

ACT: Why not press the Pakistanis to allow U.S. officials to interview Khan? The United States was very insistent with Iraq leading up to the war that it have the ability to talk to their weapons scientists. Why hasn't the United States had the same insistence when it comes to Pakistan, which is a U.S. ally?

Wolf: I think we have a continuing dialogue with Pakistan, and I'm not going to go into the details of it.

ACT: The practice of "naming names" is an important element of this administration's nonproliferation strategy. However, it has been used to publicly name those states suspected of illicit weapons programs rather than their suppliers. For instance, at the recent PrepCom there was some dancing around the fact of not calling on Russia or other European states explicitly for their involvement or ties to Iran. Why shouldn't suppliers be held as accountable as the recipients?

Wolf: We do hold them accountable. We do hold them accountable to the extent that, if sales of technology and technical assistance violate U.S. laws, we use sanctions, among other things, to take action against proliferators. If you look at the Federal Register, you will see more than several dozen sanctions cases that have been concluded within the last year. (See ACT, September 2003.) We have a very active dialogue with a whole variety of countries when we see entities engaged within a country in proliferation activities. I suppose we have nonproliferation dialogues with a dozen or more countries.

ACT: Russia and Chinese entities regularly appear on the list of sanctioned parties. Are these companies acting independently of their government? Is this something where there government is not enforcing their own export controls or turning a blind eye toward these activities?

Wolf: It would be best to say they are not enforcing adequately their export controls. China now has a new set of export controls. (See ACT, January/February 2004.) One would assume that with the new export controls-if one assumes that it's not with the acquiescence of the government, and I'm not saying it is or isn't-then that requires better enforcement. So, we are constantly working with countries like China, but not just China. We do export control cooperation with 40 some countries because your chain is only as strong as the weakest link. You identify China, but if you look at where A.Q. Khan purchased his goods, he worked in Western Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. So, it is not any one country. We have a continuing dialogue with China, we have a continuing dialogue on export controls and enforcement with Russia, and we have these dialogues with 40 some other countries.

ACT: Does the United States support China's bids to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the NSG?

Wolf: NSG, yes. MTCR, I do not think we have taken a decision on that yet.

ACT: In an address to the PrepCom, you called on Pakistan and India, who are obviously not parties to the NPT, to refrain from deploying or testing additional nuclear weapons because this would undermine the nonproliferation regime. Why doesn't U.S. research into new nuclear weapons undercut the nonproliferation regime as well?

Wolf: We have a nuclear stockpile. It actually includes low-yield weapons, and the research and development is simply related to whether they are effective in the configuration they are in. We have made no decision to build a new weapon. We certainly have not tested a new weapon. This is a research and development process. I think there is a clear difference between our nuclear weapons stockpile and the question of deploying weapons and nuclear missiles in a volatile region like South Asia.

ACT: Talking about the non-NPT states, obviously you have two of the tougher diplomatic assignments in Washington: the Middle East Peace Process and nonproliferation. As you probably know, Tom Graham , a former acting director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, says that its time for Israel to abandon its policy of nuclear ambiguity and declare its nuclear capability. How do you think such an action would affect the nonproliferation regime and the Middle East peace effort?

Wolf: I was not aware that the U.S. government was taking a view on the Israeli nuclear ambiguity so I probably cannot comment on Tom Graham's suggestion because then I would be unambiguous.

ACT: You and other U.S. officials have declared that Libya should serve as a model for both Iran and North Korea. Do you think it is realistic for Iran and North Korea to follow the Libyan example when those two states have completely different relationships and different sets of circumstances with the United States and the world than Libya did?

Wolf: Each one of those is different too. But our message in the six-party talks is that the path for North Korea toward integration in the international community starts with complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of its weapons and [weapons] program. And they get something specific back for it from those important neighbors who they claim are a threat. But they have to start with the first step. If Iran's original concern was that Iraq was developing a nuclear weapon-as it appears that it was-then that program is null and void.

ACT: Going back to the previous question, [Iran] often cites the Israeli nuclear program.

Wolf: I think it is pretty unlikely that Israel is going to attack Iran in an unprovoked way. But a country, which consorts with terrorists, has an active [weapons of mass destruction] relationship with North Korea, has traditionally had kind of expansionist influence in its region, and the size of Iran, with nuclear weapons and missiles would be dangerous in the region and dangerous to all of us.

ACT: Does the United States support the European Union's efforts to engage Iran by linking a potential trade agreement to Iran's compliance with its safeguards agreement?

Wolf: I shouldn't speak for the EU, but I think the decision to hold up the trade and cooperation agreement was based on a number of issues, including concern about Iran's proliferation and human rights. The initiative by France, Germany, and the United Kingdom is quite different. (See ACT, November 2003.) All I would say about that initiative is that, to date, there are no signs that Iran is complying with it, as the initiative was originally described to us, and no signs that the initiative has had any palpable effect on Iran's strategic decision to continue forward toward a nuclear weapons capability.

ACT: Are you saying it is essentially a pointless exercise that they are engaged in?

Wolf: I did not say that. I said, so far it has had no palpable affect. We think Iran is still moving in the direction of a nuclear weapons capability. I guess it would be better to say we cannot measure what impact it has had because it has led to a suspension of some things for now, but we still believe that Iran continues some clandestine efforts, not withstanding their commitments to the EU or the IAEA.

ACT: Specifically on that, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Semmel stated April 29 that "there is strong reason to question whether [Iran's additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement] is being fully implemented as Iran claims." What is the strong reason, i.e., what is the evidence that they are not implementing the additional protocol?

Wolf: Because we have good reason to believe it.

ACT: I assume that means it is some sort of intelligence information?

Wolf: Well, no. It is good reasons.

ACT: The United States has repeatedly called on the IAEA Board of Governors to refer the Iran issue to the Security Council so that "appropriate measures" could be taken. What types of measures does the United States want the Security Council to take with regard to Iran?

Wolf: We believe that the IAEA Board of Governors has a responsibility [to report noncompliance to the Security Council]. In essence, they found noncompliance with safeguards obligations as long ago as last November. (See ACT, December 2003.) So, if the treaty architecture is to have any validity and have any strength when noncompliance takes place, [the noncompliance] needs to be reported. What the Security Council might do is still a bit of a hypothetical, but it would be far too simplistic to say that the only option would be to impose sanctions. There are a whole variety of things the council could do.

ACT: Such as?

Wolf: As a first step, I expect that it would add its political voice, the voice of the Security Council, in calling for Iran to adhere to its treaty obligation. That would be an important additional political fact that might help wavering countries, which have not yet accepted the noncompliance, to see that, in fact, there has been noncompliance.

ACT: Given that the council took no action after the Board of Governors referred the North Korean case in February 2003, why is the United States pursuing this course with Iran?

Wolf: We think it is important for the IAEA Board to take decisions where it has a responsibility to take decisions. We think it is important for the Security Council to act. We don't want to give up an important tool of the international architecture. It is always perplexing that, when the United States chooses to do something bilaterally or [multilaterally] outside an established international treaty then we are called unilateralists. But when we say we believe that the multilateral system should address real issues consistent with treaty obligations and the UN charter, people ask us why we are doing it.

ACT: What will the administration do in the event [the Iranian case] is referred to the Security Council and the Security Council does not act?

Wolf: We hope that the international community will take its responsibilities seriously.

ACT: Speaking of North Korea, the United States has said that North Korea's dismantlement of its nuclear programs will yield benefits. Is the United States prepared to specify the benefits that North Korea will gain?

Wolf: Yeah, but probably not in Arms Control Today.

ACT: In the six-party working group talks, is there some element of this that is being conveyed in more specific terms that has not been given publicly?

Wolf: I'm sure [U.S. envoy] Joseph DeTrani will be glad to speak about what he spoke about after he has spoken.

ACT: Along those lines, there has been some discussion to provide North Korea with a written security assurance. How much progress would North Korea have to make in dismantling its programs to receive this assurance?

Wolf: I am sure these are all issues that will be fully discussed in the various rounds of the working groups and the plenary.

ACT: Let me ask one thing on your speech at the PrepCom. You said, "Should the DPRK do so, the United States stands ready to reduce its sanctions as North Korea takes steps to address our concerns." Does this signal that North Korea will not have to completely dismantle its nuclear programs before receiving benefits from the United States?

Wolf: I am sure my statement meant exactly what it said.

ACT: One other question on North Korea. You described North Korea as an urgent challenge at the PrepCom, yet this administration seems to be plodding along with periodic meetings taking place several months apart. Why doesn't the pace of talks match that of the rhetoric that time is running short? Is the United States prepared to accept a nuclear-armed North Korea for the time being?

Wolf: Just because the six parties get together at the intervals they do does not mean that there is not a lot of working taking place between the meetings. There is. There is a very constant diplomacy taking place.

ACT: With North Korea or among the other five states?

Wolf: There is a very constant diplomacy taking place.

ACT: The United States is calling for the ratification of the additional protocol by every state by the end of 2005 as a condition for it to be eligible for nuclear trade. How is the United States expecting to accomplish this? Is this going to be something that is determined by the NSG, or is this adding a provision to the NPT? What is the process?

Wolf: I suspect that we would like to see the nuclear suppliers all have a common position.

ACT: When you say nuclear suppliers, are you referring to the group itself or also including those countries that are outside the regime such as India and Pakistan, that are becoming second tier suppliers to programs around the world?

Wolf: To whom?

ACT: Well, with Pakistan you have the Khan network operating from its territory.

Wolf: Well, the Khan network was not government policy. It was private capitalism. India? Is India helping anybody?

ACT: I am not certain that they are, but given that these countries have the capabilities, the material, and the technologies, is it enough just to have the NSG…

Wolf: I am not aware that either of those countries have any intentions to export.

ACT: So, right now the focus is on getting the Nuclear Suppliers Group to make a decision.

Wolf: Right.

ACT: And similarly along those lines, the other major proposal that you spoke about earlier is the denial of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities to those states that do not already possess fully functioning facilities and those that are not in compliance with the NPT. Is this something that will be done through the NSG then as well?

Wolf: We are working in a variety of settings to build support for that proposal. Ultimately, it might come to the NSG, but that is not the only place in which we are addressing it. We are addressing it bilaterally and in other groups. We will address it again in the NSG as we did in March at the experts meeting.

ACT: Another proposal is the creation of a special committee of the IAEA to focus on compliance and enforcement. There is also the call to prohibit countries suspected of or found to be violating their NPT commitments not to sit on the IAEA Board of Governors. My understanding is that some countries have referred to those proposals as being dead in the water right now. Is that the case? Is the United States going to continue to promote these two initiatives?

Wolf: Some people may think they are dead in the water, but we continue to promote them. I am sure we will come back to them both at the board and this fall at the [General Assembly].

ACT: Is there anything that we did not touch upon that you would like to expand upon or say for the record? This is your chance to get in the last word.

Wolf: No. You have asked a lot of questions. It is never a good policy to volunteer information.

ACT: Thank you.