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I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Arms Control Experts Say Ban on Production of Key Nuclear Materials for Weapons Should Be Universal and Verifiable
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For Immediate Release: July 30, 2004

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107; Frank von Hippel, (609) 258-4695

(Washington, D.C.): After a lengthy policy review, the Bush administration announced yesterday that it supports negotiating a treaty to end the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons, but has not said it would support efforts to pursue agreement on the means to verify such a ban.

U.S. representative Jackie Sanders announced July 29 at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva that the U.S. has "serious concerns" about the verifiability of a such a treaty. Previously, the United States has supported the negotiation of a verifiable ban on the production of these materials-which are also known as "fissile" materials.

"Negotiating a verifiable and comprehensive fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) would be a significant step in making the United States safer by capping the amount of material available for the production of weapons," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "The FMCT would reinforce the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and help contain the nuclear programs of the three NPT holdout states: India, Israel, and Pakistan," Kimball said.

"If the U.S. opposes negotiating verification measures for a global fissile material cutoff treaty, it would represent a major shift in U.S. policy that could further stall efforts to secure this long-overdue nonproliferation measure," said Kimball.

"Negotiating a verifiable FMCT will be a political challenge, but it is technically feasible to establish the means to effectively monitor and verify compliance with the treaty in order to detect and deter clandestine nuclear bomb production efforts," said Dr. Frank von Hippel, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

"The goal in past years has been to negotiate an all-inclusive treaty with strict and necessary monitoring measures to provide confidence that no country is secretly producing bomb-grade uranium and plutonium for weapons. That should still be the ultimate objective," said von Hippel, a former White House science advisor.

The five major nuclear-weapon states-China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-have all indicated they are no longer producing fissile material for weapons. On the other hand, India and Pakistan have active production programs for both HEU and plutonium, and it is likely that their stocks of weapon-grade material are increasing. It is not clear whether Israel is continuing to produce fissile material for weapons purposes. Under the guise of civilian nuclear energy research, other states, including Iran, have built facilities capable of producing fissile material for weapons.

"As the cases of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea have all shown, the on-site verification capabilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) provide an important and effective complement to national technical means," von Hippel noted. "Specifically, the IAEA can visit and make measurements on sites about which national intelligence can only raise suspicions," he said.

The FMCT has been a longtime goal of the international community. President Dwight Eisenhower first broached the idea five decades ago. In May 2000 at the Review Conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the United States and all of the other states-parties to NPT called for completing a verifiable FMCT in five years.

Talks on the FMCT have been stalled since 1998 over competing negotiating priorities at the 66-member Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Last year, a shift in China's position created the possibility that the negotiations might finally begin. However, the Bush administration decided to launch a review of the U.S. position on the treaty late last year. In recent weeks, the director-general of the IAEA and key U.S. allies have also urged the United States to support negotiations for a verifiable FMCT.

During its tenure, the Bush administration has torpedoed several years of negotiations on a verification regime for the Biological Weapons Convention, and declined to seek additional monitoring and inspection measures as part of its Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty with Russia.

"The administration's 'trust but not verify' position on the FMCT will more likely hurt than help efforts to conclude a meaningful treaty and could lead some important states to reconsider their support for negotiations on a fissile material treaty altogether," said Kimball.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.

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