"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004

Securing the 2014 Summit: An Interview With Dutch Nuclear Security Summit ‘Sherpa’ Piet de Klerk

Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner

As the Dutch “sherpa” for the nuclear security summit scheduled to take place March 24-25 in The Hague, Piet de Klerk is the host country’s lead coordinator and negotiator for the event. Before taking that position in mid-2012, he was the chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. From 2011 to 2013, he was the Dutch ambassador to Jordan. In previous postings with the Dutch Foreign Ministry and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he has held numerous positions dealing with nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.

De Klerk spoke with Arms Control Today at the Dutch embassy in Washington on Oct. 31. He described the goals for the upcoming summit, the announcement earlier this year of a 2016 summit, and the planned transfer of responsibility for certain nuclear security activities to the IAEA and other institutions once the summit process ends.

The Hague summit will be the third; the others were in Washington in 2010 and Seoul in 2012.

The interview was transcribed by Eric Wey. It has been edited for clarity. A condensed version appeared in the December 2013 issue of Arms Control Today.

ACT: Thank you very much for taking the time to sit down with Arms Control Today. We very much appreciate your time. First, could you tell us what the Dutch goals are for the 2014 summit?

De Klerk: There are different levels at which you discuss these goals. First of all, at the level of the event, the goal is a successful summit without incidents that everyone looks back at with pleasure and satisfaction. From a substantive perspective, we would be very happy if the important goal of preventing and combating nuclear terrorism has been brought once more to the forefront and that those concerned have not only the feeling but the conviction that they have contributed to this goal by substantively strengthening the international nuclear security architecture and by further consolidating and better protecting the materials in question, the weapons-usable material, highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

Of course, we have the results of the Washington and Seoul summits, and some of the same elements will come back in the conclusions of the leaders. But we have the hope and the expectation that, on a number of issues, we can do better than that.

Now, at the level of more-specific Dutch priorities, we’ve set up this summit in close cooperation with our nuclear industry and our think tank world. There will be three separate events, and we can talk about that later, but that synergy between these three we hope will also come back in the conclusions of the summit. One of the substantive parts where we think we can formulate stronger conclusions has to do with the more effective interaction of government and industry with the regulator in the middle. That’s one thing, and the other thing is [that] the stronger involvement of the world of science and technology is important—for example, the important role of forensics in combating nuclear smuggling. So I think these are a few more national priorities, if you want, within this broader goal of preventing and combating nuclear terrorism.

ACT: In formulating these priorities, how has the announcement of a 2016 summit changed your thinking of what can be accomplished and what goals you might like to see carried forward in 2016?

De Klerk: Interesting question. We knew in advance that President [Barack] Obama was going to announce in Berlin that he wanted a new 2016 summit in the United States, but in practical terms, it hardly has had any effect on our preparations. We have also agreed with our American colleagues, with whom we work together very intensively, that the motto will remain, “Full steam ahead to The Hague.” So in that sense, nothing changes in the preparations for our summit.

At the same time, it’s clear that some of the goals that we had in the early days—that we can get the amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material in force[1]—[are] not progressing well, so that [entry into force of the convention] will be put, unavoidably, in the basket of the 2016 results. There are a number of other longer-terms goals that you can formulate in 2016 in stronger terms than you can in 2014, but I haven’t thought in any detail about the goals for 2016, and I can’t speak of course for the U.S. administration. I am convinced of the fact that they’ll only start thinking seriously about goals after the summit in The Hague, which makes sense because then you can assess where we are and how we plan ahead for the next two years.

ACT: So to bring it back, then, to Dutch priorities: After the last sherpa meeting in Ottawa in October, there was a press release put on the summit website saying the Netherlands believes that progress can be made in two areas: “closer cooperation between government and the industry on nuclear security” and “the sharing of information on the quality of nuclear security systems.”[2] Can you tell us in a little more detail what you’re looking for in terms of commitments or language in these two areas?

De Klerk: The relation between government and industry is difficult in the sense that the relationship differs from country to country. In some countries, the nuclear industry is predominantly state owned; in others, it’s purely private industry. So it’s difficult to put forward hard-and-fast rules, but by and large, we think that you gain quite a lot by looking again at that relationship and also at how an independent regulator works with both sides. How you should regulate is changing. For example, in the draft communiqué, we use a term that I hope survives further discussions, “performance-based inspections.” The modern way of fulfilling your regulatory goal is not so much to come with your checklist of this and that, but you regulate with the goal of, “What should the outcome be?” In the end, how does a company need to perform? It’s a combination of the checklist and performance in the end. This is all formulated in a few sentences, but we want to capture changes in regulating and thereby better protecting nuclear material.

ACT: And then, the second point, the sharing of information on the quality of nuclear security systems, can you say any more to that?

De Klerk: The question is how you can provide information on the quality and effectiveness of your nuclear security systems to others—neighboring countries, the public, international organizations, treaty bodies, what have you—without giving away operational details because you don’t want anybody to know at what time, just as an example, your guards are walking around the perimeter. That is the concept of assurances: how can you assure others that you have done your homework and you have set up an effective nuclear security system? For example, by showing your neighbors that you have invited an IAEA review team and you have followed up on their recommendations.

ACT: There was an industry summit in Seoul, but there was some criticism, particularly from the nongovernmental community, that they were very separate events. So can you tell us if you’re trying to integrate the industry summit more with the Dutch summit and how you would like to see these working in collaboration?

De Klerk: I spoke, when you asked your previous question about more-effective interface between government and industry. That holds true here as well. Yes, there was this earlier industry summit in Seoul, but there was hardly any interface and interaction between the two processes. The lesson that we have drawn from that is that we decided to task Urenco, very shortly after we were picked as the chairman for the next summit, with organizing the nuclear industry summit and [doing so] in such a way that preliminary conclusions will be available in time for the sherpas to look at them. Because only then can you have at least the chance that some of the recommendations, or lessons learned, or conclusions of the industry can be absorbed by the sherpas.

Of course, we have our own responsibility. If we think the industry’s package of recommendations is nonsense, then we don’t do anything with it. But we expect there to be thoughtful conclusions, and then we need to have a debate within the group of sherpas whether we make these conclusions our own or we refer to the industry summit and welcome these conclusions or—I don’t know what we are going to do, but the whole timing is set up in such a way that preliminary conclusions are available in time to look at them.

Different countries around the table have different views on whether leaders should explicitly refer to such other gatherings as those of captains of industry. So I don’t know how that debate will end, and in the end, the chairman can’t force that issue. The only responsibility that we felt was to set up the process in such a way that there would be the possibility of dovetailing. So far, at our last meeting in Ottawa, we had representatives of the different industry working groups during part of the session around the table and they shared where they were in the process. I think that, before mid-December, they will come up with a joint statement.

ACT: What form do you envision this cooperation taking? What is it that industry can do to do support government and government can do to support industry? I know in other fields dealing with nonproliferation, there are initiatives on export controls, there is talk of sharing information, and so on. So what kind of cooperation or forms of cooperation would you see as examples of potential results here?

De Klerk: Some of that I don’t know. We are waiting for conclusions from their side. I had in mind that governments often issue regulations and industry implements them. Now, some of these regulations don't work in practice, as we all know; and it would be much better if, in all countries, you had some sort of process of consultation beforehand. I know, for example, the U.S. has a period of 120 days or 90 days where anyone can comment. That’s one way of doing it. We want to stimulate that sort of interaction. And in the end, you have to part ways—industry has its own interests and the government has its own interests—but at least there should be this interaction.

ACT: One of the U.S. goals for the summit process is to strengthen the global existing nuclear security architecture. A White House official recently told Arms Control Today that the “mortar” between various layers of international organizations, particularly those dealing with nuclear security, needs to be improved before the summit process ends. Do you see the 2014 summit as helping strengthen the interaction between these organizations?

De Klerk: Yes, I think so. I think it is very important that we have these 3+1 international organizations [the United Nations, the IAEA, and Interpol, plus the European Union] as observers in the process. They take part in the conversation, prompted and unprompted, and they bring a lot of experience to the table. The summit is an event with a recurring time of two years. But in these organizations—in the IAEA and, in some specific ways, in the UN and Interpol— much nuclear security work is being done on a permanent basis. That is helpful for strengthening the mortar.

I used the terminology “strengthening nuclear security architecture.” Both are metaphors from the building world. I think our term “architecture” is more appropriate than the mortar analogy is. It is really about the house and the different building materials and how it all hangs together, and you can see already how the fact that you have these summits helps the IAEA in putting nuclear security higher on the agenda. The summit process has already had the effect of strengthening the architecture and making combating nuclear terrorism and improving nuclear material security a priority. That is undeniably one of the important effects of the summit process.

ACT: Shifting a little more toward the development of standards, it seems there needs to be a balance in the summit process between developing more-rigorous standards and avoiding encroachment onto countries’ sovereignty. How do you strike that balance?

De Klerk: “Standards” is more a term from the nuclear safety world, but it’s true that, as you say, it is very much up to individual countries to decide on their nuclear security regime. Security is even more sensitive and more confidential in many of its aspects than a nuclear safety regime. So it’s not surprising, at least not to me, that the balance is more to the national responsibilities. At the same time, you’ve seen that nuclear security has made a spurt in recent years in terms of international cooperation, with many guidance documents in the IAEA coming to fruition. I don’t think it’s necessarily linked to the summit process, but the summit process has had quite an impact. If you start with the revised convention on physical protection, the fifth revision of the physical protection guidelines in [IAEA] INFCIRC/225, the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, other guidance on sources in the [IAEA] Nuclear Security Series—quite a lot has been built up over the last years.

Of course, formally, even when states agree on or bless these recommendations as IAEA recommendations, then an individual state is not bound to implement them. That remains the state's responsibility, but there you have a bridge between international organizations and national responsibilities because these recommendations, adopted by consensus, are being implemented by most states. I had to check the Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources recently and came to the conclusion, formulated in the conclusions of the draft communiqué [for the upcoming summit], that considerably more states have now implemented that sort of guidance.

So over time, you will see a greater harmony in how different countries regulate sources or nuclear material. I think that’s an important role in international organizations: to streamline the field and make sure that inputs from different countries come together at a central point and go through the interactive peer process of checking what works and what doesn’t work and how it all logically hangs together.

Actually, there is one initiative where we worked closely with the United States. That initiative is to take a step further and say that states ought to implement these IAEA recommendations. That is a separate project that we hope will come to fruition by the time of the summit as well. Greater commitment to implementing what the IAEA recommended and also to make yourself vulnerable to criticism by allowing IPPAS [International Physical Protection and Advisory Service] or other missions: a team from the IAEA comes to your country and looks at the way you have set up your physical protection and nuclear security organization. And then that state is free to accept the recommendations of the team.

The Netherlands has had several of these IPPAS missions in the last six, seven years, and sometimes we've said, “No, that recommendation doesn't fit in our system.” You don’t need to accept all the recommendations. But by and large, we have taken most recommendations to heart and have made certain changes in our setup. I think that’s another very useful function of international organizations, that you have that sort of peer assessment. There are different ways international organizations can have an impact, but in the end, we all agree it remains a national responsibility.

ACT: If I could ask about the U.S.-Dutch initiative: The idea would be to encourage countries to adopt as part of their national legislation the recommendation or standards of the IAEA or other organizations? Is that the idea?

De Klerk: Yes. Right, in the national regulations.

ACT: How do you go about providing that encouragement?

De Klerk: We try to build a group of countries that will commit to that goal or to that ambition.

ACT: The 2012 summit in Seoul introduced the concepts of joint statements, or “gift baskets.” Can you tell us a little bit about how these will be treated in the 2014 summit? Will there be new gift baskets? Will leaders of these gift baskets report on them at all?

De Klerk: The whole terminology of gift baskets came up—I’m told, but I wasn’t there—shortly before the Seoul summit to inject more enthusiasm in the summit. The advantage of the summit in The Hague is that the concepts are now there and more mature. What we have tried to do at the first sherpa meetings is to make room for these different gift-basket holders—there is always one central country that is the chief organizer of that basket—to give them time to speak to these sessions to say what they’re planning, whether they’re planning new activities, and how they’re going about it. Some of the gift baskets do not have much life in them and were more set up for the summit itself, and after the summit finished, the energy was gone. Others are very much alive and will make further presentations, probably with bigger groups, in The Hague. There will be time and room for presenting them.

So to answer the other part of the question, yes, I suspect that some of the old ones are still continuing, and I’m also sure that there will be at least a handful of new initiatives. You can call this initiative that I just mentioned, where we work together with the U.S. and also with South Korea and a number of other countries, you can call it a gift basket—it is an initiative of a group of countries—but other than that, I hesitate to mention other gift baskets because many are still works in progress. I expect a number of new initiatives when we come closer to the summit and political leaders are asking the question, “What do we have to offer in The Hague?”

So that will be another impetus for new gift baskets, and I hope there will be a lively presentation of different ideas and hopefully with bigger groups than in Seoul. Then the concept of the gift basket was so novel that a number of countries said, “No, I don’t want to have anything to do with it, we don't have enough time to study the idea, and I’m not setting my signature for something I don’t feel comfortable with.”

ACT: Do you think this concept of house gifts and gift baskets has stimulated countries to try to come up with something and not show up “empty-handed”?

De Klerk: Definitely, and you’ll see that mechanism again. One of the reasons I don't want to say too much, as the chairman of this process, is that the chairman stands for the group in its totality. The chairman is responsible for those themes where there is consensus, and I want to have as much as possible a consensus summit. So whenever I hear of a new gift-basket idea, my first inclination is to think, “How can we include this in our joint conclusions, in our communiqué?” Sometimes it’s easy to see why this is not acceptable for all, and then we have say, “Oh, yes; this is more for a gift basket.”

ACT: When you hear an idea, you see if it’s something you can apply to everybody, but some of the initiatives might only apply to certain countries and therefore are inappropriate for inclusion [as part of the consensus]. Is that what you mean?

De Klerk: Apply, or it’s clear that positions of countries are such that they can’t commit to a particular course of action. Then you have to conclude it's better to have a gift basket than nothing at all. So it's a nice complementary mechanism, the consensus conclusions in the communiqué and then other initiatives with géométries variables, different groups of countries wanting to sign on to extra things.

ACT: I also get the sense that this is a way to get around the problem of getting consensus. Because now it seems—at one time, there was a so-called spirit of Vienna in international organizations about reaching consensus, but now it seems to be getting harder and harder to achieve. This seems like a way to get around that: if you can’t get the entire group to agree to it, you have some subset of the group setting an example and going ahead that way. Is that part of it as well?

De Klerk: Yeah, some of it is indeed leading by example in the hope that others will follow, at the time of the summit or later. Sometimes you’re ahead of the times or in an easier position to do certain things. For example, we did these IPPAS missions in the Netherlands, but we realize that we have a relatively small nuclear industry here. We have an enrichment plant, we have research, isotope production, and one power reactor, so there are countries where doing such missions will be more complicated. There are differences in where countries are with [regard to] their nuclear industry and the nuclear cycle, and some can commit more easily to certain things than others.

ACT: There’s been quite a bit of discussion about the legacy of the summit process, based on the understanding that it was never meant to be a permanent institution. At a political level, where do you see nuclear security going after the summit process ends? Do you think the IAEA is the body that can best carry on this initiative?

De Klerk: So first of all, the IAEA—for full disclosure, I should say that I worked for five years for the IAEA—has spent time and energy on nuclear security and physical protection since the 1970s. The first guidelines came out in 1972, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was negotiated in the late 1970s, et cetera, et cetera. So it has a long history, but at the same time, as I said before, it is undeniably true that the summit process has enabled them to shift into higher gear. Now more people there are working on nuclear security. I see that as a lasting effect, but of course in the long term, that effect can wane. Who knows if we’ll have nuclear accidents and safety becomes more important. We don’t want to prescribe how the director-general of the IAEA and member states and the board and the General Conference need to set their priorities. Yes, the attention to nuclear security could go down over time, but I’m sure that ways can be found then for another political impetus. I see the effect of summits slowly going down because you can give a political impetus only so often, and at some point, the effect becomes less.

ACT: Do you see the July conference on nuclear security at the IAEA playing a role in influencing your thoughts on where the Dutch summit can go and where the IAEA can continue to advance this agenda at a higher political level?

De Klerk: Yes, I think the July conference was a good example of the higher profile of this nuclear security area, not only the fact that it was held, but also the fact there was this ministerial day at the beginning[3] and the huge number of people showing up and having an interest. I think there were more than 1,300 people, which made it one of the biggest conferences the IAEA has ever organized. So yes, it's a demonstration of the higher priority, and some of the conclusions are also of some use for the nuclear security summits.

But not all parts of the nuclear security summit process fit in the IAEA. It may be we need new institutions or new entities after the summit process ends, but that thinking hasn’t progressed far enough. Yes, there is a role for Interpol; yes, there’s a role for the UN; yes, there is a role for the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and the Global Partnership [Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction], and what have you.

I’m not clear where the missing dimension is. The IAEA clearly only deals with civil material, so to the extent that we can pay any attention, as we should, to military material, there are limits to the IAEA. The IAEA cannot, by definition, deal with all the questions that the nuclear security summit process deals with.

ACT: You just mentioned the need to pay attention to military material. Do you see that as something the summit process needs to begin to take into consideration?

De Klerk: I would be very happy if some attention would be paid by the summit to military materials, if only for the fact that, within nuclear-weapon states, there are large quantities of nuclear material not only in nuclear weapons, but three-quarters of it not in weapons, but in bulk, in reactors, in different forms. Considerations of physical protection and nuclear security apply to that material as well. Some sort of statement that it is at least as well protected as civilian fuel would be very useful and important in my mind. But how much we can say, if anything at all, would depend primarily on how much the countries concerned are willing to say.

Some of the principles [of the nuclear security summits]—for example, that it is better to convert your reactors that run on highly enriched uranium to lower enrichment—that’s primarily for civilian research reactors, but there’s no reason it can’t or shouldn't apply to military reactors. Again, I know it’s sensitive. But such principled considerations apply to all, except that we always add “when technically and economically feasible,” and the implications of that caveat can, of course, be very different when you talk about military activities.

ACT: So are you talking about submarine reactors? Is that, for example, what you’re thinking about here?

De Klerk: I think it's better that I don't add more specificity.

ACT: And then you mention this caveat, if economically and technically feasible, which is in a lot of language of the documents from the summit. That’s a big qualifier, and I think some people wanted there to be less of an escape clause like that. That was true, I think, of some of the earlier documents, and certainly that was a lot of the commentary I heard on the declaration from the Vienna meeting in July. Is there a way to reduce those qualifiers, to give a little bit more of a push? Make it—maybe not make it mandatory, because, as we discussed, there are the issues of national sovereignty, but not make it quite so easy to make a claim that exempts you from the need to do this?

De Klerk: Is there a way? Yeah, there would be ways, but I’m afraid I have quite of a lot of customers who insist on that phrase. You will see in all likelihood similar formulations at the end of this summit preparation process.

ACT: But aren’t there some customers who are pushing the other way as well, who are looking for something a little bit stronger?

De Klerk: It is difficult to argue against the idea that something must be feasible, so it is a bit of a one-sided debate, and there’s not much leeway to change that caveat.

ACT: Earlier, you said the summits have been successful in various things, including preventing nuclear terrorism. So, explain how they have prevented nuclear terrorism, something specific the summit process has done, how you can tie it to the prevention or reduction of the threat of nuclear terrorism.

De Klerk: First of all, it’s difficult to know what you have prevented because most of these things you don’t know. It would be hard for me to argue that because of what we have agreed at the summits, very specific things have changed. But more generally, I think that the pressure of taking part in the nuclear security summit process has led to countries looking extra carefully to what measures they have in place and making sure they indeed have done everything they should do. Have we seriously looked at all IAEA recommendations? Do we have enough staff for our regulator? The fact that heads of state and government take part leads to extra scrutiny.

ACT: But if that's the case, how do you maintain that same sort of attention once the summit process stops, when it’s been handed off to other organizations?

De Klerk: Like I said before, many of these forms of scrutiny will have a rather long-lasting effect. Over time, the effect may become less, and then it’s time for another political injection. That’s not a matter of two years; then we are talking longer periods and maybe to some extent higher political attention in the IAEA or greater acceptability of these peer reviews. It is interesting that, in these two years, we have passed a critical mark that now more than half of the countries participating in the nuclear security summit process have accepted these IPPAS missions. When the summitry process just started, it was just a few of us, less than a handful, who had done these missions. If that would be a universally accepted procedure and you would organize that external scrutiny as to whether your system is as it should be, then maybe you wouldn’t need the political summits anymore because you would have made sure that you have your scrutiny in other ways.

ACT: If that's the case, how do you increase that level of attention in countries that are not participants in the summits? If they don’t have their leaders attending, they don’t have that same sort of peer pressure.

De Klerk: In the first place, most countries with a nuclear industry and nuclear material are participating in the process. That's answer number one. Answer number two is that some of that progress that we make in the nuclear security summit process filters down into international organizations or gives impetus to international organizations to work along these lines. So there are ways where you have a filtering effect to find its way to countries that do not participate in the summit process.

ACT: You mentioned that there may be a need for some new institutions to carry on this work. I actually want to ask about the existing institutions. Do you think that the institutions that are in place now are ready to take on this role—the IAEA, but also others? Are they ready at this point? Will they be ready in 2016 to take on the responsibilities they need to, to continue the work of the summits?

De Klerk: I have great respect for the IAEA as it is, but again, I’m a former employee. I think it’s very good that now they have more money, they have more people, they do more work on nuclear security. I see that as one of the results of the fact that, every two years, presidents and prime ministers come together to talk about nuclear security. Is everything precisely as we would like it in the IAEA? No. But they’ve made quite a lot of progress and can handle quite a lot, and of course in the end, you have to accept that, in international organizations, you have to compromise with 159 countries with different perspectives trying to formulate conclusions. So there is always a fair amount of watering down, but it is beyond doubt that they have made quite a lot of progress.

ACT: Can you give an example of one area where you would like to see more progress by the IAEA before it takes on this role?

De Klerk: Speaking personally, this notion of peer reviews, when that will be broadly accepted, I think that will be a big step forward.

It will also be a big step forward if some of the concepts that are now common knowledge in nuclear safety could be applied to nuclear security as well. Nuclear safety developed very much after Chernobyl, and now inspections through the IAEA or through [the World Association of Nuclear Operators] are much more normal, whether you call it inspections or something else, than in nuclear security. That's still more in its infancy. I’m not suggesting that security needs to follow safety every step of the way, but there is a lot to be learned, in my own view, from the safety area.

One should also consider that the IAEA cannot do more than its member states allow it to do. So it would be very good if the United States and others would become party to this amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material because that would give a set of extra tools: review conferences, periodic reports would be more useful if they are about the amended convention. But the 2005 amendment to the convention first needs to enter into force.[4]

ACT: Is there anything else you want to say by way of wrap-up, or an important point we didn’t ask about that you’d like to add?

De Klerk: This is an important summit for the Netherlands because this fits in our core priorities for peace, justice, and international security. Especially the fact it’s in The Hague is very symbolic, with important institutions like the International Court of Justice and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. But it’s also important for the Netherlands in practical terms. Because there is a lot of material going through Rotterdam harbor, including all sorts of scrap metal with nuclear material in it, and it’s important to trace that back to where it came from and understand patterns of what is being shipped around the world. It’s mostly innocuous stuff, like depleted uranium or natural uranium. But these are things that need to be looked at very carefully, and to the extent we as the Netherlands can contribute to improving this field, we will be happy to do that.

ACT: Well, thank you very much for taking the time—

De Klerk: My pleasure.

ACT: I don’t know what your next interesting nuclear nonproliferation assignment will be, but hopefully we’ll be able to interview you in that capacity, too.[5]


[1] The current, original version of the convention entered into force in 1987. In 2005 a diplomatic conference drafted an amendment that would extend protection requirements beyond the original agreement, which covers nuclear material while in international transport, by expanding the coverage to apply to nuclear facilities and to materials in peaceful domestic use and storage. It also would impose new legal penalties for misuse of radioactive material and sabotage of nuclear facilities. The 2005 amendment will enter into force once it has been ratified by two-thirds of the states-parties of the convention.

[2] NSS 2014, “Sherpa Meeting in Ottawa—One Step Closer to The Hague,” October 22, 2013, https://www.nss2014.com/en/news/sherpa-meeting-in-ottawa-one-step-closer-to-the-hague.

[3] The first day of the July 1-5 conference was focused on the participation of government ministers. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 34 ministers attended the conference, which drew representatives from 125 states.

[4] As of November 13, 2013, 28 additional countries need to ratify the convention.

[5] Arms Control Today previously interviewed de Klerk when he was chairman of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. “The NSG in a Time of Change: An Interview With NSG Chairman Piet de Klerk,” Arms Control Today, October 2011.

The Netherlands’ top diplomat for the upcoming nuclear security summit in The Hague discusses the goals for the summit and the need to maintain a focus on nuclear security after the summit process ends.

No Chemical Weapons Use by Anyone: An Interview With OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü

Interviewed by Daniel Horner

Ahmet Üzümcü took office as director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on July 25, 2010. Immediately prior to that appointment, he served as the permanent representative of Turkey to the UN Office at Geneva. His previous career included two postings at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Üzümcü spoke with Arms Control Today by telephone on December 19 from his office in The Hague. A large part of the interview dealt with concerns over Syria’s reportedly large arsenal of chemical weapons, the prospect that those weapons would be used, and the OPCW’s responsibilities, capabilities, and constraints with regard to that situation. The interview also covered issues that are likely to receive considerable attention at the upcoming review conference for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), scheduled for April 8-19.

The interview was transcribed by Marcus Taylor. A condensed version appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Arms Control Today.

ACT: The CWC has now been in force for 15 years. In just a few words, could you summarize the ways in which you think the CWC regime has succeeded and the ways in which the potential of the treaty has not yet been realized?

Üzümcü: The implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention over the past 15 years has been successful, especially in the field of demilitarization. The level of destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles has reached the level of 78 percent under the verification of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW. I think this is a significant achievement, which needs to be acknowledged. It has required the allocation of a lot of resources by possessor states-parties, as well as by the organization itself.

Nevertheless, the deadline—the final extended deadline of April 29, 2012—was not met. But a decision by the conference of states-parties in November 2011 enabled the possessor states to continue the destruction activities with greater transparency and reporting.[1] So I think this decision was somehow a manifestation of the culture of cooperation and dialogue that has been developed over the past 15 years.

The decision was nearly by consensus, with one exception. I think the fact that the organization was able to take its decisions by consensus over the past 15 years with a few exceptions has been a clear demonstration of the evolving global cooperation on an important security issue, the destruction of chemical weapons, as well as the prevention of re-emergence [of chemical weapons]. This also shows to a great extent the strong political will that exists on the part of the states-parties to get rid of those chemical weapons for good and to collectively prevent their re-emergence through nonproliferation activities.

That in and of itself, I believe, is a big achievement. There are other areas in which we should do more, such as Article VI inspections, verification of the chemical industry, improvements in our on-site inspections and monitoring capabilities. I think the verification mechanism can be improved by selecting the most relevant sites to be inspected and making the inspections more consistent.

There are still discrepancies on import and export data provided by states-parties, which we try to reconcile. This requires a lot of effort. The states-parties as well as the Technical Secretariat should step up their efforts in this domain so that we can ensure a more effective nonproliferation or verification mechanism with a view to preventing the diversion—the possible diversion—of chemical activities.

On the assistance and protection activities under Article X, I think we have been focusing so far on building activities at the national level with individual states-parties. For the past one or two years, we have focused more on regional activities; from now on, we are encouraging states-parties to build regional training centers for that purpose. We are also cooperating and will cooperate with the European Union in the field of their regional centers of excellence. They will cover nuclear and biological [weapons], and we will support them in the chemical field.

I believe that it is in the interest of states-parties to develop regional capacities for emergency response because they are more effective. In case of emergencies, the time is extremely important. [Regional capacities] are actually more sustainable. Small states-parties will have no capability and no resources to support and sustain these kinds of capacities even if they are developed at a certain stage. Therefore, our aim is to build these capacities but make them sustainable in the future.

Finally, on the peaceful use of chemistry, I think the states-parties have agreed that more could be done, and this is a major incentive for a large number of states-parties that have no chemical weapons, no declarable chemical industries. They are more interested in capacity development activities or the peaceful use of chemistry, and we are offering a lot in this area. I think we also will be able to increase this type of activity in the future and to meet the expectations and needs of developing countries. This will enable us to keep them engaged in implementation of the convention.

On the national implementation part, half of states-parties still have no national legislation to enforce the convention. This is a major challenge for the future of the organization. Even if those countries have nothing to declare, I think it is in the interest of the international community and the overall membership of the OPCW to ensure global implementation of the convention because they may be used as transit countries. We have to be able to control these kinds of transfers of scheduled chemicals,[2] dubious materials, also in the context of counterterrorism efforts. Therefore, we have to actually encourage them to pass the necessary legislation, and we have been working on this. Now, we are going to follow a more tailored and specifically designed approach; but of course, any national legislation should cover key points of the convention.

So these are areas [in which] we should do more on. The review conference in April will provide an opportunity for states-parties, as well as the Technical Secretariat, to focus on achievements clearly, but also on the unfinished job for the organization, the way ahead.

ACT: Thank you. You have laid out a lot of issues here, and I’m going to try to come back to many of them. But first I want to get to a very current topic, which is the situation in Syria. Syria is one of only eight countries not part of the CWC, and many governments are concerned that the Assad regime may use its sizable arsenal or that Syria’s chemical stocks may be lost or stolen.

In your December 7 statement, you said the OPCW’s responsibilities “include the prevention of the use of chemical weapons by anyone.” What responsibilities and what authorities does the OPCW have with regard to possible use of chemical weapons by states that are not parties to the convention? How is the OPCW working to prevent the use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria?

Üzümcü: First of all, the situation in Syria, the reported existence of chemical weapons, is a stark reminder to the international community of the need of universality of the convention. There are eight countries that are not yet members or parties to the convention. I think this case clearly shows that the lack of full universality would prevent full and effective implementation of the convention and the overall objective of eliminating those weapons for good and preventing their re-emergence.

In our statement dated 7 December, we wanted to point out actually that the Chemical Weapons Convention has the overall mandate. When one looks at its preamble, it says the elimination of chemical weapons universally from the world and prevention of their use. So, it doesn’t say from states-parties or excluding states [that are] not parties. We have the overall mandate to oversee or watch the global situation in this respect.

Although we may not have the mechanisms to enforce it with regard to states not party, I think this should not prevent us from commenting on the potential security risks deriving from the existence of such weapons in one part of the world or another. When we say “by anyone,” we wanted to make clear that either opposition or government forces should not use such weapons under any circumstances. That’s the purpose of it, and it is the same for nonstate actors. So this was a very general statement, in my view, expressing our principled position on this matter.

ACT: You have noted the possibility that the UN secretary-general could request the assistance of the OPCW in investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons. What capabilities and what expertise can the OPCW bring to the table when it comes to securing and destroying chemical weapons in Syria? Do you currently have the personnel, equipment, and financial resources to respond promptly to a request?

Üzümcü: In the relationship agreement between the OPCW and the United Nations, which goes back to the year 2000, and in the Verification Annex to the CWC, there are provisions that require the OPCW to put its resources at the disposal of the UN secretary-general for the conduct of an investigation of alleged use involving a state not party. The recently concluded supplementary arrangement between the two organizations provides the modalities for the implementation of these provisions. If it happens in the case of Syria, clearly the secretary-general could ask us to do it; and if the security situation permits, we would be able [to carry this out]. We have the technical expertise to do it, to send some experts to verify whether such an allegation was valid or not.

On the destruction of chemical weapons, it depends on the different scenarios, of course. But let’s say that if we were actually asked by the Syrian government, if the Syrian government decided to join the convention, we would be able to provide some expertise. This doesn’t mean that we would actually be able to go and destroy those weapons; we don’t have the technical means in place. The destruction of chemical weapons is quite a complex operation. Billions of dollars have been spent in the past by possessor states. This would require some equipment to be put in place. But primarily, the situation has to improve, and I don’t think we can operate in a conflict zone. We depend on the UN safety and security regulations, and we should have a green light from them. The priority at the present should be to secure those weapons in order to prevent any access or use.

ACT: So if there was an allegation of use by Syria, you would be able to investigate in the countries allegedly attacked, but you would not be able to go into Syria regardless of whatever authority you have through the convention or the UN secretary-general? Or would you be able to somehow get additional authority to go into Syria? Is there a way to do that?

Üzümcü: Actually, the wording of the convention is that the UN secretary-general could request the investigation of alleged use involving a state not party, and whether we are able to go into Syria or not would totally depend on the political situation as well as the actual situation on the ground. Therefore, I cannot predict how it would unfold and whether we would be able to practically operate on the territory of Syria. So it is actually unpredictable, I would say.

ACT: What preparations are you making for eventual Syrian accession to the CWC and for OPCW on-site inspections in Syria, perhaps even before formal accession? For example, have you had any contact with the Syrian opposition, the Assad government, or other Syrian organizations?

Üzümcü: We haven’t had any contact with the Syrian opposition and, other than the letters that we sent to and received from the Syrian foreign minister, we haven’t had any contact [with the Syrian government]. Having said that, I think the Technical Secretariat has the capacity to conduct technical assistance visits or inspections once there would be legal grounds for that, either through accession or by decisions to be made by the policymaking organs of the Technical Secretariat and if the situation on the ground also permits.

Our experts are fully capable of identifying the chemical weapons and providing advice on the security, how they should be secured and so on, also what kind of methods should be applied for their eventual destruction. So in terms of technical capabilities, I think we can provide some advice and expertise, but clearly the protection and security of chemical weapons is a national responsibility for states-parties that are possessor states. The method for destruction is a national sovereign decision as well. There are some methods that are prohibited, such as dumping in the sea or burying them and so on; but apart from that, it’s a national decision to choose the destruction methods.

ACT: You mentioned your correspondence with the Syrian foreign minister. I’ve seen your letter to him. Is his letter to you public? Is it available on your website?

Üzümcü: Actually, we didn’t make public the response letter; but basically it says that Syria will not use chemical weapons, if it has any, under any circumstances. It also says one should focus on the potential use of such weapons by the opposition groups and has allegations about other states in the region and elsewhere.

ACT: Okay. I wanted to move on to some of the questions dealing with the review conference and the regime as a whole. In his statement to the recent OPCW conference of states-parties, U.S. Ambassador Robert Mikulak [the U.S. permanent representative to the OPCW] said about the upcoming review conference, “Contrary to past experience, we should not be satisfied with an agreed document that no one will look at again until the next Review Conference in five years.”

What are you, Ambassador Nassima Baghli [who chairs the open-ended working group that is preparing for the 2013 review conference and drafting the final document], and the states-parties doing to produce a more relevant final document and a successful review conference?

Üzümcü: I know that Ambassador Baghli is working on a draft document to be submitted for the consideration of states-parties at the open-ended working group. It is not yet available, but her objective is to present a concise and to-the-point draft text reflecting the views of different countries. I hope that the conference will ultimately produce some practical results because that is important.

As I said earlier, this review conference is particularly important because it’s going to be held at a critical juncture for the organization, and therefore it has to give some guidance for future orientation to both the Technical Secretariat and the states-parties. Therefore, I hope that this will be something substantive, and, as I said, a clear guidance.

ACT: To give an example—when you talk about how it will be practical and be substantive, in what areas do you think it will actually lay out some new policy or give some specific charge to the states-parties and the Technical Secretariat?

Üzümcü: I mentioned earlier that 78 percent of the weapons stocks were destroyed, and until the destruction is complete, it will remain a priority to the OPCW. We expect that close to 99 percent of those weapons will be destroyed by the time of the following review conference in 2018. Therefore, I believe that, for the next five years following the April conference, there will be a transitional period during which we should use the opportunity to adapt the organization.

This means the adaptation of the Technical Secretariat, but also the other organs. For instance, there is the discussion about the improvement of the Executive Council proceedings, methodologies, and so on, which I hope will be done in the coming months. But the adaptation pertains to the Technical Secretariat structure, too.

In terms of deliverables, I think we should go beyond the verification of destruction. I mentioned earlier the improvement of the verification mechanism under Article VI of the convention. There are other areas, for instance, chemical safety and security. On chemical safety and security, this organization has been conducting some new activities over the past three years; and this is an area where we can deepen our activities in collaboration with fellow institutions, such as the chemical industry, chemical industry associations, as well as others.

Another area is to improve our capacity-building activities. In the advisory panel report prepared by the panel chair, Rolf Ekéus, one and a half years ago, there is a mention of the future of the organization [and its potential role as] a repository of knowledge and expertise in the field of chemical weapons. Now I think that is a quite good determination because I don’t think any other organization—many states-parties will not be able to maintain such expertise because it will not be a priority anymore.

Nevertheless, there still will be risks of the use of toxic chemicals by nonstate actors or the discovery of old and abandoned chemical weapons. [Also there are] some countries that are not members at the moment but may become members and posses chemical weapons. Such expertise will be required in the future, and this is the only organization that can do it. Therefore, I think the Technical Secretariat should be able to maintain such expertise in the future.

There are challenges. We have a tenure policy that limits the term of the staff members, and I don’t know whether the states-parties will consider to remove it, but this is one of the challenges. Then we will have to develop, I believe, some kind of training capacity by the organization. There are some projects that we have in mind and we want to submit to the consideration of states-parties during this transitional phase, showing that we are prepared to meet the challenges in the future once the destruction will be complete, hopefully by 2017, 2018—or nearly complete, I should say.

ACT: Now let’s go to some specific issues. You alluded earlier to the question of the April 29, 2012, deadline and the fact that Russia and the United States did not meet that deadline. As you said, the 2011 decision did not declare those countries to be in violation of the treaty, but requires them to regularly submit detailed plans for their ongoing destruction activities and imposes reporting, transparency, and monitoring requirements for the ongoing destruction work. So, are those requirements being fully implemented?

Üzümcü: Yes, they are. The decision taken at the [2011 conference of states-parties] is being implemented. By this decision, the possessor states-parties are expected to complete the destruction in the shortest time possible without setting a new deadline. So they submitted their destruction plans, which were approved by the policymaking organs of the organization, and they in fact are complying with the reporting requirements and other obligations. I, as the director-general, have been tasked to report regularly to the Executive Council meetings, as well as the conference of states-parties, and to provide my own evaluation of the progress made and whether the states-parties concerned have made necessary efforts to accelerate the destruction process or not. So this process is very much under way.

ACT: In your view, has the issue of the 2012 deadline been settled, or will it be a contentious issue at the upcoming review conference and beyond?

Üzümcü: Actually, I think, from a legal perspective, it is settled. But I believe that the states-parties will observe the situation, the progress, and will continue to urge the states-parties concerned, the possessor states, to try to accelerate the destruction process, because from their point of view, some genuine efforts should be seen by them and demonstrated by the possessor states. The decision itself clearly states what efforts should be made.

I know that the United States is making some efforts to accelerate the process, as well as the Russian Federation. There are technical challenges and other difficulties, but their responsibility, in my view, is to demonstrate they are making those efforts.

ACT: The third state-party that did not meet the April 2012 deadline was Libya. What is happening now to get Libya’s stockpile destruction program restarted, and when might OPCW inspectors return to Libya?

Üzümcü: Our inspectors have been to Libya three times since the crisis there was over, and they were able to inspect the storage site, and they were able to inspect the newly found, the previously undeclared weapons. And I’ve been to Tripoli myself. We expect the Libyans to resume the destruction of the bulk sulfur mustard—half of which was destroyed earlier, before the crisis erupted [in early 2011]—some time early [in 2013] and under the verification of the OPCW inspectors. The equipment is functioning, and the issue is how to ensure the security of our inspectors and that the accommodation premises will be ready. They are being prepared for that. I think this is feasible and [the destruction of the bulk sulfur mustard] could be completed in a space of two months maximum.

I was talking about the bulk of sulfur mustard in large containers. As to the newly found weapons that consist of artillery shells and a few aerial bombs filled with sulfur mustard, it will take a little longer because they will need some new equipment to destroy them and explode them in a detonation chamber, which they need to procure with the support of some states-parties as well as the Technical Secretariat. It may take a little more than a year to deploy it and to start destruction, but what I should stress is that the Libyan authorities are very cooperative, very transparent, and willing to go ahead with the elimination of those weapons.

ACT: So the inspectors have been just to check the declarations, but they will actually be on the ground on a permanent basis early [in 2013] so that this can resume. Is that correct?

Üzümcü: Yes, the destruction of bulk sulfur mustard could resume because, as I said earlier, the equipment that was broken in February 2011 is now repaired and functional. Provided that we have the necessary security measures in place and the UN has given a green light for our inspectors to travel to this part of Libya, I think that the destruction could resume anytime soon. The inspectors will have to verify the destruction during the whole process.

ACT: Okay, let’s go back to an issue that you had mentioned before about industry verification and related issues and the question of the future of the OPCW. You said that the focus of the OPCW will have to shift from destruction to preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons. How can the current industry verification regime be adapted so that it can meet this challenge? In particular, what has been achieved so far in increasing the OPCW’s ability to monitor the so-called other chemical production facilities, and what more needs to be done?

Üzümcü: I think the overall balance, which was struck during the negotiations of the convention, will be upset not due to the failure of the implementation, but rather due to its success, in the coming years. The initial balance was between the elimination of chemical weapons and the industrial verification on the one hand and the rest of the activities emanating from the convention on the other. Now, since the destruction activities will be completed, let’s say in a few years’ time, then there will be a need to strike a new balance.

And the new balance, I believe, can be actually achieved between the verification, under Article VI mainly, which would aim at preventing the re-emergence of chemical weapons on the one hand, and the rest of activities on the other. Therefore, this will give us an opportunity to reinforce this verification mechanism. I don’t think the numbers and caps for each state-party could be changed. There is a cap of 20 inspections per year for other chemical production facilities, or Schedule 3 facilities, and this cap will be in place. On the other hand, we could improve the efficiency or effectiveness of those inspections, the selection methodology, and their conduct and also improve the declaration system. We have made some progress in this respect on declarations—more accurate, more timely declarations, as well as on the evaluations so far.

But I think we should do more [not only] by educating and training the states-parties about doing this declaration in a more proper, more accurate way, but also in our own capacity to evaluate them. So I think there is still work to be done in order to improve this verification mechanism in collaboration with the chemical industry. The chemical industry is our main partner in this domain, and they are willing to cooperate further with us. The [Ekéus] advisory panel report recommended that we should establish a joint working group with the chemical industry. We are working on that and, following the review conference, we want to somehow informally, but still by establishing a mechanism, have a permanent, regular dialogue and cooperation with the chemical industry on this and other relevant issues.

Another related issue is scientific and technological development. There are several new discoveries and inventions, which may have some implications for the verification mechanism of the convention. And we have a Scientific Advisory Board, and they have been working on the convergence between biology and chemistry for some time, on sampling analysis and other issues. So that is an area that needs to be taken into account by states-parties. And the Scientific Advisory Board provided its input to the review conference very recently, as well as [the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry], which jointly organized with the OPCW a workshop providing its own inputs into the process. I think it is on their website as well as ours. So the technological scientific development system is something that we should clearly bear in mind.

Another area in which we were not that active is education and outreach. We have realized that we cannot achieve the goals of the convention only through verification mechanisms and prevention, or nonproliferation, activities. We need to raise awareness among the relevant communities, the scientific communities as well as the relevant educational institutions. So we are in the process of collaborating with some partners to produce some educational materials, e-learning modules, so that we can reach out to universities, even high schools. Soon we will invite some chemistry teachers from high schools so that we can inform them about the goals of the convention and disseminate the necessary information to raise awareness and also to raise awareness among the chemical industry as well as the scientific community about the risks, which might be associated with handling the dual-use chemical material.

ACT: The primary goal of the CWC has been a “world free of chemical weapons.” What is the OPCW doing to bring in the remaining eight countries [Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria] into the treaty regime to reach this goal of universality that you mentioned earlier

Üzümcü: Universality, I think, is one of the key objectives of the OPCW. It has been so for many years. I think having a membership of 188 countries is a big achievement, but it is not enough; and as I said, Syria is a reminder of that. Recently, the UN secretary-general and I have written letters to the heads of state and government of those eight countries that are outside of the realm of the convention.

We have been approaching those countries for several years. It is likely that three countries—Angola, South Sudan, and Myanmar—may join the convention some time during 2013, hopefully. We have been sending some delegations to Myanmar; the second one will go in early February. We have proposed similar assistance to South Sudan, which is a new independent state, and to Angola. We see that there shouldn’t be any problem for them to join the convention. So we understand that it has not been a matter of priority so far, but they have shown some interest, and we encourage them to do it as early as possible.

As for the remaining three countries in the Middle East, including Syria, we were hopeful that this WMD [weapons of mass destruction]-free-zone conference would be held before the end of [2012]. Now it is postponed.[3] We know that it is going to be the beginning of a process, and we hope that this process will pave the way for universality of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Our position has been that CWC membership should not be linked to any other processes and it should be addressed on its own merits. We think that the possession of chemical weapons should be repudiated by any country, irrespective of any other process. We know that the countries in the Middle East relate this issue to regional security concerns, as well as the nuclear issue, and we hope that the hurdles will be removed during the process of [establishing] a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

ACT: What about the other noninspected geographic areas, such as Taiwan and the Palestinian territories? What is the situation there?

Üzümcü: Taiwan and the Palestinian territories are noninspected, yes. Actually, the Taiwanese issue is more complex, and the policy of the OPCW was not to recognize Taiwan as an independent state. As agreed, we follow UN practices of “one China” in this regard. We think opportunities should be explored to achieve greater transparency in this respect, but I don’t know yet how. As for Palestine, I don’t know whether the recent voting in the [UN] General Assembly [making the Palestinian Authority a nonmember observer state] will have an impact or not. This is something that we are not able to actually express any view at this stage.

ACT: One of the issues on which there was no progress at the last review conference was how to treat the development of new types of incapacitating chemical agents. Several states-parties were urging a more focused and structured review of whether nonlethal agents of warfare are covered by the CWC’s general-purpose criterion. Do you expect that issue to come up at the review conference, and what kind of decision could the review conference make to clarify possible ambiguities on the scope of the convention?

Üzümcü: This issue had been discussed in the previous review conferences, but without any conclusion; and in the preparations of the upcoming conference, there have been some activities, especially at the open-ended working [group] level. [There were] also some side events during the conference of states-parties in November. One state-party, Switzerland, has organized a side event on incapacitating agents, as well as the [International Committee of the Red Cross]. Some think tanks are raising this issue. I cannot predict how it’s going to unfold, but clearly this issue will be discussed. I don’t know whether there will be a decision on this or not. As the Technical Secretariat, we of course will follow a neutral line. I think some parties wish to ensure transparency with regard to [incapacitating chemical agents]. We will see how the positions develop by that time.

ACT: Okay, one more and then we can wrap up. When you were a candidate for director-general, you emphasized the importance of transparency, outreach, and involvement of civil society. What have you done to strengthen this area, and what challenges remain? You mentioned earlier the scientific and educational outreach, but maybe you could say a little bit more about transparency and interactions with civil society and so on.

Üzümcü: On transparency, what I have emphasized was strengthening the public diplomacy because of the need to publicize further the achievements of the organization, which clearly has been a good example of effective multilateralism. We should publicize further this success story so that we can raise the confidence of our publics in the multilateral diplomacy and the international organizations that have been dealing with security issues for years now. So this sets a good example and could be emulated by other processes. So this was the purpose of my point, and we undertook some initiatives in this regard. We have improved our website, and I think now those who are interested are able to have access to a greater part of our documents through our website. We also are improving the search mechanism and so on so that the retrieval of documents can be better. And we organized some meetings with think tank representatives last June. We collected their views, and we are in the process of implementing some practical measures to facilitate their contacts with the organization.

We have been in touch with several scientific communities. I mentioned also the chemical industry, and we are in the process of producing e-learning modules, which are going to be usable soon; some of them already are complete. Depending on the resources that could be available to us, we will do more. We have organized a series of 15th anniversary meetings, including one in New York on the margins of the General Assembly in October. We encourage states-parties to come and pay visits to our organization, and they are doing it more and more.

I believe also unfortunately, due to the situation in Syria, that the OPCW has attracted some interest also. But what we want to do irrespective of what happens in Syria is really to try to reach out more to younger generations. We are also using the social media networks, so we are on Facebook and others. We will try to do more to try to be better known.

ACT: Okay, do you have any final comments you would like to make or touch on anything that I did not ask you about?

Üzümcü: The OPCW Technical Secretariat is a rather small organization, composed of less than 500 people coming from 80-plus nations. But this is a good group of colleagues, staff who are very professional and have loyally served this organization for years. I think their commitment, dedication should be acknowledged, and I believe they will continue to do an excellent job in the future. As director-general, I’m committed also to working with them and to assuring a smooth transition for the organization in the coming years. The support of all states-parties will be crucial for the success of this process.

ACT: Thank you very much.




[1] See Daniel Horner, “Accord Reached on CWC’s 2012 Deadline,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2012.

[2] The CWC requires states-parties to declare chemical industry facilities that produce or use chemicals of concern to the convention. These chemicals are grouped into “schedules” based on the risk they pose of violating the convention’s conditions. Schedule 1 chemicals and precursors pose a “high risk” and are rarely used for peaceful purposes. States-parties may not retain these chemicals except in small quantities for research, medical, pharmaceutical, or defensive use. Many Schedule 1 chemicals have been stockpiled as chemical weapons. Schedule 2 chemicals are toxic chemicals that pose a “significant risk” and are precursors to the production of Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 chemicals. These chemicals are not produced in large quantities for commercial or other peaceful purposes. Schedule 3 chemicals are usually produced in large quantities for purposes not prohibited by the CWC, but still pose a risk to the convention. Some of these chemicals have been stockpiled as chemical weapons.

[3] At the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, the parties to that treaty agreed to hold a conference in 2012 on establishing a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The conference had been tentatively scheduled to take place in December in Helsinki, but the key countries involved in organizing the meeting announced in November that the meeting was being postponed. They did not set a new date. See Kelsey Davenport and Daniel Horner, “Meeting on Middle East WMD Postponed,Arms Control Today, December 2012.

Üzümcü spoke with Arms Control Today by telephone on December 19 from his office in The Hague. A large part of the interview dealt with concerns over Syria’s reportedly large arsenal of chemical weapons, the prospect that those weapons would be used, and the OPCW’s responsibilities, capabilities, and constraints with regard to that situation. The interview also covered issues that are likely to receive considerable attention at the upcoming review conference for the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), scheduled for April 8-19.

Controlling Proliferation: An Interview With Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman

Interviewed by Kelsey Davenport, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Thomas Countryman took office as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation on September 27, 2011. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1982. While serving in the U.S. mission to the United Nations in the mid-1990s, he was the mission’s liaison with the UN Special Commission investigating Iraq's unconventional weapons programs.

Arms Control Today spoke with Countryman in his office on April 10. The interview focused on a recent event—the nuclear security summit that took place in Seoul March 26-27—and two upcoming events: the May summit of the Group of Eight (G-8), where the countries are expected to endorse plans for the second decade of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction, and the July conference at which countries will undertake negotiations on an arms trade treaty (ATT).

The interview was transcribed by Kelsey Davenport. It has been edited for clarity. A condensed version appeared in the May 2012 issue of Arms Control Today.

ACT: Thank you very much for sitting down with us. I know that your portfolio covers a broad range of issues. We are going to focus on just a couple of them, dealing with weapons-usable material and conventional arms.

First, in what ways did the Seoul nuclear security summit meet your expectations, and in what ways did it fall short?

Countryman: I’ve seen a lot of summits. In general, summits can be dramatic or successful, or both, or neither. In my view, the Seoul summit was not dramatic, but it was certainly successful. Unlike summits that make a ringing declaration of a new policy, the Seoul nuclear security summit was about reviewing a very successful record of accomplishment by a number of states acting individually and in concert, in rededicating themselves to the goals of the 2010 summit [in Washington], and in making specific commitments to continue to meet those goals. So in that sense, it had more substance than a number of other summits I can think of.

In particular, the various agreements announced—whether it was the completion of the removal of highly enriched uranium [HEU] from Ukraine and from Mexico, whether it was the cessation of the use of highly enriched uranium to produce nuclear medical isotopes in Europe, whether it was the extension and building-up of cooperative frameworks to combat nuclear smuggling—all of these are accomplishments in the real world, not just in the policy frame, not just in terms of a declaration. So in that sense, I think it was fully successful.

There remains work to be done, and that is why the parties have agreed to focus on a summit two years from now to review the progress, to review the commitments that we made in Seoul. And I expect to see a similar amount of progress in the real world when we get to the Netherlands two years from now.

ACT: Okay, any areas [in which] you might have hoped for more, but it didn’t quite come through?


Countryman: We still consider a couple of areas where there is progress possible. First, there are a couple of countries that still have significant stockpiles of fissile material beyond any peaceful use, any peaceful requirement that they may have. We hope to convince those countries to continue the process of reducing and ultimately eliminating those stockpiles. Second, we would still like to see in general, across the world, additional steps on nuclear security, on the physical means to guarantee that access to fissile material and radiological sources is limited to those who need it and not open to terrorists or criminals. And third, we would still like to see a more concerted effort worldwide to phase out the use of highly enriched uranium as a reactor fuel and convert all those reactors to low-enriched uranium. So these are tasks for the next two years. There has been progress in the last couple of years, but we need to keep going on those.

ACT: In some of the discussions in the run-up to the Seoul summit, it was indicated that the summit would produce a communiqué that had firmer commitments than the 2010 document. Do you think that the 2012 communiqué accomplishes that?

Countryman: I haven’t read the 2010 document for the last year, but I think that the 2012 document is firm in making commitments. It is not an international treaty, nor is this summit process intended to result in a binding international treaty. But the success of the process so far has been because President [Barack] Obama convened world leaders at this level to focus this level of political attention and devotion of resources to these issues; that has been the key to success, rather than making sweeping commitments that would be binding on all the participants.


ACT: You mentioned the use of highly enriched uranium and some of the things that still need to be done. The communiqué calls for an announcement of specific voluntary actions by the end of 2013, rather than completion of actions by that time. So can you explain how that is consistent with the four-year goal that President Obama announced in 2009 and the summit participants endorsed in 2010? It seemed that you were working toward completing it by 2014 as opposed to having announcements in 2013.

Countryman: We are well on track to meet the target that President Obama established of a four-year lockdown of vulnerable nuclear materials. We made great progress in the last two years. There is still hard work to do, [but] we have confidence that existing fissile stocks should be in a secure situation by 2014. That is not exactly the same question as eliminating all of those fissile material stocks, which we would like to see, which we are working on with specific countries. The minimum requirement is to make sure that those stocks are secure while we progress on the path to eliminating them.


ACT: So by 2014, we just want to have them secure, but not necessarily removed from countries? That would include having them in secure storage within the country rather than having them removed from the country?


Countryman: The goal is security of those materials. It is a country-by-country situation. And I think that we want to work quietly with those countries that need the assistance or the political cover to complete the process of removing those stocks.


ACT: Before, during, and after the summit, there were various lists of what different countries would do by certain dates. One list had seven countries that were planning on removing their HEU by 2013, and that list included Belarus and South Africa. Some reports indicate that those countries are moving more slowly. So could you bring us up to date with what is going on with those two countries, because they are two key ones?


Countryman: They are two key countries, and they are at very different places in terms of their standing in the world. You can’t compare the very positive relationship we have with South Africa on a range of issues with the very difficult relationship that we and the European Union have with Belarus. In the case of South Africa, we will continue to work with them on alternatives to maintaining the [HEU] stockpile, trying to find a solution that is economically beneficial to South Africa, for what it correctly considers to be a valuable resource.

In the case of Belarus, we’ve done our best to isolate this issue from the general political difficulties between Belarus and the rest of the world. That’s been one of the successes of the nuclear security summit, to avoid having this issue trip over every other issue in a country’s bilateral relationship. But there are both political and technical issues still to work with Belarus [on]. It remains our goal to finish the removal of HEU stocks from Belarus by 2014.


ACT: Okay. Is there any sign that that process is going to be re-engaged from the sort of the limbo that it is in now?


Countryman: I would not say that it is in limbo, but these things do take time.


ACT: Then on South Africa, as you said, the relationship is much more friendly. So given that, were you perhaps expecting more from [the South Africans]? Because their statement at the summit seemed to assert a right to use material at whatever enrichment level they choose as long as they took the necessary steps. [See sidebar 1 below.] And they seem to tie a phase-out of civilian HEU to completion of a fissile material cutoff treaty, which clearly is not happening anytime soon. So in the context of that friendly relationship, is that an area where perhaps more was hoped for?


Countryman: Well, first the nuclear security summit process is not about abridging the rights of any nation under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is, rather, making a common commitment that [governments] choose not to exercise certain rights in the name of protecting the security of [their] people in individual countries and worldwide. And that is the context in which we have our discussions with South Africa and with everybody else. So it is not a question of rights; it is a question of making a choice that is rational both in terms of economics and in terms of security. They did make a connection to the fissile material cutoff treaty. We remain interested in seeing those negotiations commence soon. It is frustrating to us, as to the rest of the world, that [they have] not been able to begin. Whether that connection is valid and whether it should persist when there are valid security reasons for proceeding with down-blending this material are questions better addressed to the South Africans.


ACT: Many independent experts have said they are concerned that, despite the important progress made in the nuclear security summit process, there are still no internationally agreed binding standards for nuclear security. What is the Obama administration’s view regarding the international instruments in place regarding nuclear security? Are they sufficient to meet U.S. goals to improve global nuclear security standards, or is there a need for something more?


Countryman: Well first, it’s a process. The summit is not intended to be an end in itself, but is intended to lead to greater responsibility on the part of all states. Part of that process, from the beginning, has been to give greater authority and resources and encouragement to the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] to help develop a framework for commonly understood international standards on nuclear security. The IAEA is moving forward on that front. That’s not the same as development of a new legal standard or new legal requirements, but that was not ever the purpose of the summit.


ACT: So do you feel that the standards that are established through the IAEA, those are sufficient? It is just a matter of implementing those standards?


Countryman: I am not sure that we have seen them yet, so I’m not sure I will say they are sufficient, but it is the logical next step in developing the sense of responsibility that every country needs to have when it comes to securing nuclear materials.


ACT: In the context of what you have just said about IAEA standards, and looking ahead to the Netherlands summit in 2014, what can you say about what the United States goals are for that summit and especially beyond? You say it’s a process, there will be work to be done, I’m sure, after 2014. What can you tell us about how the United States sees the process beyond 2014?


Countryman: So you couldn’t just let us relax after Seoul? You want to know what’s next, two years from now?


ACT: Inquiring minds want to know.


Countryman: I know they do. And I think perhaps we are getting ahead of it. The first part of the answer is easy. We want to be able to two years from now say that we have substantially accomplished the lockdown of vulnerable nuclear material that was in the president’s original target. Whether we will be discussing new international mechanisms beyond the summit, beyond the political commitments, frankly it’s too early to say. I couldn’t tell you today.


ACT: And do you have a more general sense of 2014 and beyond? Will that be the last of the summits?


Countryman: Again, it’s too early to say. You heard the diversity of views in Seoul, with a number of delegations praising the value of the summit so far, giving the opinion we should go to 2014 and beyond. You heard a couple of delegations that expressed doubt that we needed to go past 2014. So I would say it’s an open question at the moment. Our intent is to gain as much value from the next two years as we possibly can before we make a decision on that.

ACT: I am going to move on to the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. Last year, the Group of Eight announced that the Global Partnership would continue beyond its original end date of 2012.[1] But the announcement left open many specifics, perhaps most notably the funding level. Could you give us a quick summary of what the partners already have agreed? And what kind of additional details will be discussed ahead of the [May 18-19] G-8 summit at Camp David?


Countryman: First, I think it’s a good moment, 10 years after the G-8 summit that set up the Global Partnership, to evaluate positively how much it has accomplished. Spending $22 billion in 10 years substantially reduced the risk of proliferation of weapons and materials from the former Soviet Union. It was generously funded by G-8 members and others, and its accomplishment is huge. It’s natural, last year and this year, to look into a couple of new dimensions, to look beyond only nuclear materials and consider other proliferation challenges, including biological hazards. It’s also natural to look beyond the former Soviet Union to other regions of the world that confront some of the same issues, in the nuclear, biological, or other fields. So the redirection of the G-8’s focus for the Global Partnership from being centered on the former Soviet Union, centered on nuclear and chemical weapons issues, is, I think, a very positive development. We have tasks to complete in those areas, but we also have new tasks, new partners around the world, who appreciate the importance of providing security against these particular challenges.

President Obama made clear in 2010 that we will continue our level of funding. He has committed at least $10 billion in a 10-year period to this task. And we are spending that money wisely, but also well, through my bureau, through the National Nuclear Security Administration, through the Department of Defense and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and we will continue that funding stream into the future. Even in difficult economic times, this is, for us, an investment in national security rather than a foreign assistance program. We leave to other partners in the G-8 the funding levels that they believe they can afford. So it would not be accurate to try and give you an estimate of the total G-8 spending on this. I would note that we continue to expand the Global Partnership. We’ve added Kazakhstan as the24th member just a couple of months ago. And the sources of funding go beyond the G-8 itself.


ACT: So will there be some further detail on the financial aspect at the upcoming summit? Will there be some sort of announcement? You said that the U.S. made this commitment to a specific number; will other countries publicly state what their commitments are at the summit? Is that something we can look forward to?


Countryman: We don’t know yet.


ACT: Okay. Will the U.S., as the chair of the summit, be encouraging countries to do that? Either publicly or privately, to make these kind of commitments to specific numbers?


Countryman: I think we will be pressing countries to make commitments; whether we will press them to make commitments to specific numbers, I think we’ll see.


ACT: What other kinds of commitments then?


Countryman: To make general commitments to continue their generosity. It’s tricky to get into the game of setting a number and then setting some of our partners up for public criticism if they are unable to meet that number. We were successful in setting a specific number back in 2002, and we were successful in spending and exceeding that on valuable programs that contributed to global security. It is a different moment in time today economically. And I would be hard pressed to say that there is the same value in setting a specific number target at this moment.


ACT: You mentioned that there were some new programmatic goals for the second decade of the Global Partnership. Can you expand a little bit more on that, in terms of the vision for how this might evolve? And you mentioned Kazakhstan as a new partner. Obviously, beyond the G-8, there are the G-20 countries. Are there some of the G-20 countries, particular countries that the United States and the other G-8 countries want to partner with in this broader effort in the next several years?


Countryman: First, we are happy to partner with just about anybody who shares our goals and is able to bring money and expertise to the table. Or even just money. We don’t think, to be honest, in the context of the G-20, which is a group instituted for a particular economic purpose—and you could say the same thing, that the G-8 started that way, it was only about economics, and now it is into proliferation and a number of other issues. But we don’t think about the G-20 in that particular context.

What do we do in terms of new fields? I guess I would talk about biosecurity first. It’s not only a question of preventing the proliferation of technology that can contribute to a biological weapons program. Our entire concept of how the world defends itself against the threat of biological weapons rests upon the capabilities of the world community and individual nations to detect, deter, and respond to biological attacks. The detection and the response is the same for a natural or an accidental outbreak as it is for a deliberate release of a biological weapon. And we have already seen that pathogens crossing from the natural environment into the human environment have had health and economic consequences in many parts of the world. It is being able to monitor that, detect, and react rapidly—this is where the United States has built up its capabilities for national biodefense in such an event and is working hard with partner countries to develop the same kind of detection and response capability, provid[ing] a double insurance policy against both natural and deliberate introduction of disease into the human environment.

So, for those countries that have seen this phenomenon before, of animal viruses entering the human population, particularly in Southeast Asia and Africa, we’ve been working intensively on joint research projects, developing monitoring mechanisms, detection mechanisms, [and] helping to plan responses, both immediate responses and medium-term production of vaccines. I think that these are the kind of biosecurity programs that are not only a public health program, but also help to deter anybody from thinking that biological weapons are an effective weapon to use against human populations.


ACT: So is there a sense that the original mission in Russia and the other former Soviet republics has largely been accomplished at this point? Or is [the Global Partnership] going to continue to do that while doing these other things, given, as you said, the financial constraints?


Countryman: There is still work to finish in the former Soviet Union, and we will finish it in partnership with the Russian Federation and with others, in the G-8 and in the region. But with the amount of funding that we hope to have available, we need to look well beyond the region.


ACT: Part of what I was getting to was that when the G-8 was established in 2002, there were a number of goals in terms of programs and in terms of pledges that were not met over the course of the 10 years. Does that give you some pause about setting too ambitious of an agenda for the coming 10 years?


Countryman: I think everybody in government, and for that matter in your personal life, ought to set an ambitious agenda for the next 10 years. But year by year, you have to be realistic about the resources available and make intelligent decisions about your top priorities for the year. But I’ve never been opposed to ambitious agendas.


ACT: Before we shift topics, if you could just give our readers a more specific sense of what these G-8 Partnership programs are dealing with, and let’s take Kazakhstan in particular. Can you tell us a little bit more about what is planned with Kazakhstan? Does it have to do with some of the security issues, strategic materials that are still at the former Soviet test site there? What kinds of work do you anticipate doing with Kazakhstan? Some work has already been done before, but looking forward?


Countryman: Our cooperation with Kazakhstan in the nonproliferation field has been excellent. In fact, immediately after this meeting I will be talking with the deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan. We will have a team there this month to review the broad range of cooperation that we have. They’ve been a model partner in this area, and they are also an example of a country that has accomplished so much with the assistance of the Global Partnership program, that they now have the resources and the expertise to share those accomplishments and that experience with other countries in need of the same kind of work.

On specific accomplishments, you saw the announcement at the Seoul summit by Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and the United States of substantial completion of cleanup at the Semipalatinsk site. [See sidebar 2 below.] Cleanup may be too strong a word—securing of vulnerable materials at that site. That’s huge. This was one of the greatest concentrations of vulnerable material in the world. And as we close in on completion of that task, it has been a substantial success for the goal of nuclear security. We have cooperation in the biosecurity field as well, with Kazakhstan, both through the State Department and through other agencies.

One area that Kazakhstan is interested in is serving as a center of research, whether you call it a center of excellence or a successor to the International Science and Technology Center in Moscow. And so they are willing, as somebody who has benefited from the Global Partnership, to give back.


ACT: I just wanted to follow up on the point that we made about diversifying the membership. When we mentioned the G-20, it was not so much as a function of the group, but as one that is somewhat more diverse than the G-8, which is wealthy, advanced, industrialized countries, that has a more representative cross-section of countries. Is there an ongoing effort to get major countries that are not currently included as part of the Global Partnership?


Countryman: Yes, I did not mean that the G-20 are not important countries. I just meant that when we look at potential donors, we don’t do it by categories by G-20 or EU, or someone else. We look at the countries that have demonstrated an interest, and an expertise, and a willingness to spend some money to work cooperatively to reduce global threats.


ACT: Are there any particular countries that are on your radar at this point?


Countryman: Sure.


ACT: But you are not going to name them?


Countryman: I would not make an appeal like that in public.


ACT: For the last part, we are going to go to the arms trade treaty. Since 2006, efforts have been under way to pursue a treaty to deal with the transfer of weapons across international borders, and this July there will be negotiations to try and conclude a treaty text. Could you just start out by explaining from the U.S. perspective what the U.S. government’s view is on the humanitarian and security challenges that an arms trade treaty can help address? And then second, why did the Obama administration announce that it would proactively engage in that process?


Countryman: Well, there is a lot there. First, you should look simply at how the United States administers its own export of weapons. And that is, we have a detailed mechanism for considering exports that takes into account security situations in the region, takes into account the human rights situation, takes into account economic dimensions, as well as the usual elements of national interest that go into an arms sale to a friend anywhere in the world. This process is rigorous, it’s exhaustive, and we think that it compares favorably to that of any other country in the world. So by our own actions, we have demonstrated for decades that we believe countries have a responsibility to take into consideration a wide range of criteria before exporting weapons anywhere.

The Obama administration believes it is valuable, that each country in the world should have a similar process. Not an identical process, not identical mechanisms, but a similar process of considering all of these relevant criteria before the export of weapons from one state to another. In our view, this will simultaneously serve to address certain humanitarian [and] human rights concerns and offer the potential to reduce the level of conflict in a number of regions in the world. But at a minimum, what it accomplishes, even if none of those goals are accomplished overnight with a new arms trade treaty, [is that] there is a new sense of responsibility upon every member of the United Nations that you cannot simply export and forget, that the consequences of export of weapons last in the region where they are received, and that has to be in the consciousness of every country that exports weapons.

We have agreed to participate in the arms trade treaty negotiations that will take place in July, in New York, because we believe that there is now a readiness on the part of the world community to embrace a similar concept and to create a set of criteria that will have real meaning for every arms-exporting country. We also believe that the format is such that it will address our concerns, that the requirement to adopt a treaty by consensus is an important way to ensure that the United States’ principles are protected in this process.

Now, what are those principles? Just to mention a couple of key ones. First, that trade in conventional weapons is a legitimate commercial activity and one that states have the obligation to regulate. Second, that there must be international criteria, but there must be national mechanisms, national processes, at the state level, to make these decisions. That is within the sovereignty of the member states of the United Nations, to make these decisions. Third, that a treaty needs to be floor, not a ceiling, that these should be high, but still minimum, criteria for countries to decide, and that if other nations, such as the United States, wish to have still stronger criteria, the treaty does not prevent us from doing so. And finally, I think that it is important to keep in mind that this is a treaty about trade between states. It cannot, it should not, create an international mechanism that seeks to regulate this trade, although it should offer international assistance to states that want to establish this system. And it must not seek to regulate domestic trade, nor can it touch upon the important rights under the Second Amendment of the Constitution enjoyed by American citizens. So these are some of our basic principles. I think there is a wide consensus among members of the United Nations about this framework, and we are hopeful that within a framework, in respect of these simple concepts, an arms trade treaty negotiation can be successful this year.


ACT: So you spoke about the principles, the redlines, that the United States is going to be seeking in these negotiations with respect the right of individuals to possess arms within the United States. I mean, is it even a possibility, given the mandate of the treaty that was established at the UN? If you could just clarify, there are some here in the United States that charge that this is a UN treaty that could affect Second Amendment rights. Is that even a realistic possibility given the mandate, and given the stated positions of the U.S. and other countries in that regard?

Countryman: That’s a very good question. And I agree with you that the mandate of the conference does not encompass that as a possibility. But even if I am wrong about that, the negotiators from the United States will ensure that no such treaty that abridges the rights of U.S. citizens is adopted.

ACT: You spoke about some of the basic requirements. Could you elaborate a little bit more on what are the key elements that the United States thinks must be in the treaty in order for it to be robust enough, in order to be effective, to address the humanitarian, the economic, the development, and the security concerns that the states that are engaged in this want to try and address?

Countryman: I would break it down into kind of three dimensions. One is that it must be relevant to a wide range of weapons, everything from pistols to aircraft carriers; it must apply to a wide range of actions, whether it is direct export, licensing, brokering, or defense industrial export, that is, setting up weapons factories in other countries; and it must include a number of criteria. As I said before, our own process includes considerations of regional balance, regional stability, active internal and external conflict in a country, human rights, humanitarian issues, legal issues, economic. I don’t want to prescribe at this moment that an arms trade treaty must include all of the same criteria that the United States’ system does. But clearly, to be effective, there have to be a number of criteria that states are required to take into account in their national decision-making on arms exports.


ACT: You just mentioned some of the items that need to be part of the scope. One of those items potentially is ammunition, as well as the weapons themselves. U.S. export controls address the transfers of ammunition as well as weapons. So from the United States’ perspective at this point, how might the ATT address the issue of ammunition, which is often, as you know, responsible for the perpetuation of armed conflict as much as the actual sale or transfer of weapons in some cases?


Countryman: I’m not certain I agree with your premise in the last sentence. I am not disagreeing, but I am not positive I agree. Ammunition is different from weaponry. You are right that the United States has a similar process on decisions on export of ammunition. And it is important for us to take that into account and make decisions according to similar criteria. But it still is a different case for a number of reasons. One, ammunition is inherently dual use, between military, law enforcement, and recreational use. Second, the quantities of ammunition involved are just huge. Third, it is more difficult by far to track what happens to ammunition as opposed to any other weapon that might be exported. And fourth, it’s a big administrative burden just to keep track of all of these exports of ammunition. We are not interested in creating in this treaty an obligation that is so financially onerous that states choose to ignore it rather than to honor it. For all those reasons, ammunition is one of the difficult questions that will come up. And at this point, it is hard for us to see how a successful conclusion to the arms trade treaty could include ammunition.


ACT: Let me ask a brief follow-up on this. The United States, as we noted, implements controls over ammunition, where it goes, not tracking it in what happens after the original transfer. How is the United States solving this potential problem of other states making ammunition transfers that undermine the spirit or the intent of the ATT? Or are there some other solutions that might address this, much in the same way that U.S. export controls of ammunition try to do?


Countryman: Well, look, we are always open to good ideas. I’ve outlined some of the reasons that controlling ammunition in the ATT poses a special problem. If there are good ideas, good solutions out there, of course we are prepared to listen to them.

I would not expect the arms trade treaty in its first year of implementation to solve all the concerns about arms transfer around the world. We don’t look at the ATT as a disarmament treaty; it is a treaty that regulates a commercial activity. And we don’t expect that all the conflicts in the world will evaporate as soon as this is put into place. But we do expect it to begin a process of leveling the playing field, and of course, I mean that in a commercial sense, so that exporters from different countries face the same considerations, but I also mean it in a humanitarian sense. It gives advocates of restraint a stronger leg to stand on in making arguments about export of weapons from this country or that country. But will everyone instantly honor it to the same extent? I don’t expect that. But I do expect it to be a solid basis on which to build towards a less conflict-ridden world.

ACT: Final question. Just to kind of put that in perspective, because I think our readers and others need to be reminded of particular situations, I mean, today, in the headlines, conflict in Syria, Mali, Darfur, of course, other states in the Middle East, so how might the arms trade treaty, if it is put into effect, help the United States and other countries leverage the kind of behavior that it is seeking in these particular situations where there are debates over whether weapons should be sold to states in which there are ongoing civil conflicts, human rights violations? I am asking you to be a little bit speculative, but also a little bit more specific about how this might help U.S. and international interests in these tough situations.

Countryman: Well, to speculate specifically, what we would expect is that after adoption of an arms trade treaty, we would expect other arms exporters to consider factors similar to those that we consider, and for the world community, including the United States, to have an additional point to argue against the export of weapons to an active conflict zone. Will that in itself be enough to end such conflicts? Perhaps not. But will it contribute to restraint on the part of external parties and perhaps on the part of the conflicting parties at the same time? That is something that you could hope for, whether it’s Syria or Mali, or anywhere else.


ACT: All right; thanks a lot.


Countryman: My pleasure.


1. The Group of Eight (G-8) countries—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—created the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction in June 2002 at their summit in Kananaskis, Canada. The countries pledged $20 billion toward the effort over 10 years, with half of the amount to come from the United States. The roster of the partnership has expanded to include countries outside the G-8.

Sidebar 1: S. Africa Seoul Statement Affirms Rights on HEU

South Africa is not required to limit itself in the enrichment level of the uranium it uses in its nuclear program, as long as the purpose is peaceful, the country’s leader said March 26.

In a speech at the Seoul nuclear security summit, President Jacob Zuma declared his country’s right to “the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes only, irrespective of the enrichment level.” Zuma acknowledged that “special precautions” are required for highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium, but said that South Africa had these measures in place.

Uranium with enrichment levels greater than 20 percent of uranium-235 is considered HEU. Urging states to minimize their use of HEU was a principal agenda item at the Seoul summit.

The Seoul communiqué, a consensus document endorsed by the summit participants, called for states “in a position to do so” to announce by the end of 2013 “voluntary specific actions” to minimize the use of HEU. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak referred to this provision of the communiqué as one of the summit’s “core accomplishments.”

Lee also highlighted the need to convert reactors producing medical isotopes to use a low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. South Africa has played a lead role in this area by commercially producing a key medical isotope through the use of LEU rather than HEU. (See ACT, January/February 2011.)

Zuma went on to say that focusing on minimizing the use of HEU for civilian purposes should “come to fruition” in the negotiations for a fissile material cutoff treaty. Conclusion of that accord, which would ban the military production of fissile material, is seen as a distant prospect, as the start of negotiations has been blocked for years in the Conference on Disarmament.

Experts estimate that South Africa currently possesses between 600 and 750 kilograms of HEU. That figure includes quantities from the country’s abandoned nuclear weapons program.—KELSEY DAVENPORT



Sidebar 2: Materials Secured At Former Soviet Test Site

Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States have made significant progress in a previously secret cooperative effort to secure nuclear materials at a former Soviet nuclear test site, the three countries said in a March 26 joint announcement at the nuclear security summit in Seoul.

At the Semipalatinsk site in eastern Kazakhstan, 456 nuclear devices were tested between 1949 and 1989, according to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. The site also includes the largest underground testing infrastructure in the world, consisting of 181 tunnels in Degelen Mountain.

A U.S. official said in an April 24 e-mail to Arms Control Today that “[t]he majority of nuclear tests [at Semipalatinsk] resulted in the infusion of fissile material in tons of melted rock, but some types of nuclear tests can leave readily recoverable fissile material.” The trilateral project, which began in 2005, has filled the test tunnels with a special cement that chemically bonds with the residual material, rendering it unusable for nuclear weapons, the official said.

In a March 27 statement at the Seoul summit, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that the joint effort of the three governments resulted in “rehabilitation of the test site” and “destruction of the infrastructure.” According to Kazakhstan’s national progress report, a document submitted for the summit describing the country’s progress on strengthening nuclear material security since 2010, the “main part” of the project, which included eliminating the site’s infrastructure, is complete. Cooperation continues on “physical protection of sensitive areas,” which the statement described as “nearing completion,” the report said.

The trilateral effort began when it became apparent that previous measures taken by the three countries to secure the site were insufficient, Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communication and speechwriting, said at a March 27 press conference. According to Rhodes, scientists estimated that “more than a dozen nuclear weapons’ worth of nuclear materials” remained in the tunnels. He said that “scavenger activity” in the area and a focus on preventing nuclear terrorism led the countries to reopen some of the underground testing tunnels to “secure and eliminate residual nuclear material.” The prior effort to secure the site ended in 2000, Rhodes said.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Thomas Countryman took office as assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation on September 27, 2011. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1982. While serving in the U.S. mission to the United Nations in the mid-1990s, he was the mission’s liaison with the UN Special Commission investigating Iraq's unconventional weapons programs.

The South Asian Nuclear Balance: An Interview With Pakistani Ambassador to the CD Zamir Akram

As the Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, Zamir Akram serves as Islamabad’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). He has been a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service since 1978. From 2007 to 2008, he was additional foreign secretary for disarmament and arms control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Arms Control Today spoke with Akram on October 18 at the Stimson Center in Washington after Akram’s presentation,  “Deterrence and Regional Stability in South Asia.” (In the interview, there are several references to that presentation.) The interview focused on the stalled negotiations at the CD on a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and Pakistan’s position that it lags behind India in fissile material production and cannot agree to a production halt until it has closed the gap.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Pakistan has expressed its opposition to fissile material cutoff talks at the CD. Pakistan’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Raza Bashir Tarar, said in an October 11 speech at the UN that an FMCT “should deal clearly and comprehensively with the issue of asymmetry of existing fissile material stocks.” However, independent estimates suggest that India and Pakistan currently have roughly similar stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material.

Can you be more specific about how Pakistan views the fissile material balance and how Pakistan believes the issue can be “clearly and comprehensively addressed” in an FMCT?

Akram: An FMCT as currently being envisaged is a treaty that will only ban future production and not existing stocks. Now whatever the count may be—and the count varies as to how much fissile material Pakistan has or India has or other countries have—the game changer in this environment has been the NSG [Nuclear Suppliers Group] waiver for India, which was spearheaded by the United States.[1]

As a result of this NSG waiver, India has signed several nuclear cooperation agreements, with the United States, Russia, France, Britain, Canada, and several other countries. Through these agreements, India will be receiving an unknown but obviously high quantity of fissile material, ostensibly for its civilian nuclear program. This would mean that its existing stocks of fissile material, its indigenous stocks, can be quite easily converted to weapons use because it will have the imported material to use in the civilian facilities. At the moment, what India has to do is to divide it up, between civilian and weapons programs. So it will give India a free hand to enhance its weapons capabilities.

That is what we have to look for.

ACT: If Pakistan believes that India has a greater fissile material production potential today, why is it not in Pakistan’s interest to freeze the size of current stockpiles of weapons-usable fissile material by agreeing to a halt in the further production of fissile material for weapons purposes?

Akram: In the time that we can, we need to enhance our own capabilities so that we have sufficient fissile material for what we would then feel is a credible second-strike capability, or credible deterrence capability. So that’s one reason—that if we were to conclude such an agreement, that would deny us the possibility of ensuring that there is no gap between us and India. That’s the first thing.

The other thing is that, with these agreements that have been signed under the NSG with India and with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], the monitoring of civilian nuclear cooperation and the use of civilian nuclear fuel, or fuel meant for civilian purposes, by India is not adequate. There is no real guarantee that material from this particular area will not be diverted for weapons use.

These are some of the factors that cause concern for us that an FMCT concluded now would leave us vulnerable because there would be ways of getting around an FMCT through the civilian nuclear track.

ACT: Accepting for the sake of argument that India is somewhat ahead of Pakistan at this point­—because India’s civilian program is significantly bigger than Pakistan’s and if your concern is the implications of the civil nuclear deal, wouldn’t that mean the gap between the two countries would get larger and larger? Even if there’s a relatively small gap now, wouldn’t it be strategically in your interest to hold that gap as it is rather than allow it to expand as it could if this scenario you’re describing materializes?

Akram: No, as I said, with the program that we have, we are working toward ensuring that we have sufficient fissile material that would give us a more credible assurance of deterrence. So we need to build up to a point that we are assured of that number. Now, what the number is, I can’t tell you because we don’t know how many and what the Indians will be doing. Even if we have an idea where both of us are today, with the fact that they will now get access to very large amounts of fissile material, and how they will use that fissile material, we need to compensate for that now. We need to start working on that possibility now so that even if there is a gap, it’s not a huge, big gap, and that despite the gap, our second-strike, or our deterrence, capability is credible.

ACT: As you said in your [Stimson Center] talk, if a minimum credible deterrent depends to a certain extent on what the other side has, that number is only going to go up in the future as both sides continue to build. As India’s goes up, if it takes advantage of this situation that you’re describing, then yours will have to go up as well, will it not?

Akram: As I said, there are two things. One is potential: their potential for increasing their stocks will go up as a result of the NSG agreements. That’s number one. Number two, we cannot discount the possibility of diversion from civilian to military. So taking these into account, we have to build our own capacity to a point where we feel comfortable with our deterrent.

ACT: Why can’t the issue of existing stocks be addressed once negotiations on an FMCT are under way at the CD? Even if Pakistan itself would not be prepared to join an FMCT in the coming years, once the treaty is negotiated, why prevent other countries from reaching agreement on such an accord by blocking consensus on the agenda?

Akram: Those are two questions. As for the second one, we’re not blocking—okay, we’re blocking in the CD, but they can take it out and negotiate it outside if they want to. The countries that have already declared a moratorium on production of fissile material for weapons, they can convert that moratorium into an international treaty among themselves—the five nuclear-weapon states, or if the Indians want to join them, so much the better. Fine.

As for the other question, we are concerned that the negotiations that are being envisaged right now will be concluded in a way that the major powers want. The major powers have themselves, in informal meetings, very clearly stated, “We are not ready to include stocks.” If you permit me to say, this so-called Shannon mandate is an eyewash. It’s basically what we call constructive ambiguity in the UN. It’s a means of getting around a difficult issue and fudging the problem. That’s what constructive ambiguity is.

That’s not good enough for us at this point. In 1998, 1999, when this issue of an FMCT came up and the Canadians came up with this idea of what was then being called the Shannon mandate, that could work then. But now you have—as I say, the NSG waiver is a game changer. At least for us, it has made a big difference. So now we can’t deal with ambiguity. If we’re going to deal with stocks, it has to be up front. It has to be accepted that, yes, we’re going to negotiate reductions of stocks and a ban on future production. That’s our position.

ACT: Why not start that process, where you can make those points, rather than prevent the process from moving ahead?

Akram: As I say, this process will not take long to complete because they are ready with their commitments. They are ready with what they want. I don’t see this going to be a long, drawn-out process.

But anyway, what you’re saying is, why can’t we talk about it, right? Fine, in the CD they can talk about it. We don’t have to say we are negotiating it, but we can talk about it. And we’ve done this for many years, talked about different things. We talked for several years about chemical weapons before we actually negotiated the Chemical Weapons Convention.

ACT: Some countries have suggested that if the CD cannot begin talks on an FMCT soon, they will seek action in the UN General Assembly on an FMCT. Others, including the P5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council— China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States], are holding discussions outside the CD to help sort through the issues that are blocking negotiation of an FMCT. What is Pakistan’s view of any role for the General Assembly in negotiating such a treaty? Why wouldn’t Pakistan welcome the chance to discuss its views on fissile material with the P5 and other states, including possibly India?

Akram: As for our position on the UN’s role, of course, the UN can set up a group of governmental experts to negotiate anything. There’s no way we can oppose that; that’s fine. But it’s not mandatory for anyone to be there, so whoever wants to be there can be there. Fine. On the role of the UN, there is no problem, they can do what they want; the UN can take a decision on this.

As regards the participation by some of these countries in informal talks, like the scientific- and technical-level talks, I was all for scientific- and technical-level talks if they are in the CD, to elaborate ideas about verification, about scope, about definition, all those things. We can talk about these in the CD, we never opposed it. In fact, I told Japan and Australia, the two of them who were spearheading this, that it’s better to do it in the CD than outside the CD. If you’re doing it outside the CD, the CD is not bound by it, so what is the value addition?

As for the P5-plus, the problem is on several levels. First of all, the P5 is not a recognized group in the CD. The P5 can have its own say on whatever it wants to say. But the idea that the five nuclear-weapon states and the three new nuclear-weapon states[2] can get together and decide this issue for the rest of the world is something which we find is a bit presumptuous. This is not the way that we need to proceed with an international treaty. You can’t have five or eight countries decide and basically come and tell [the other countries], “This is it; sign onto it.” That’s not the right kind of approach. If we want to have a discussion on what the issues are, we’re ready for that. We do engage with all of them in an informal setting in the CD itself or outside the CD; we do that. But to have a process called a P5-plus-N3 process on an FMCT, I don’t think the nuclear- weapon states have the authority to do this.

ACT: Given Pakistan’s concern about the further expansion of India’s fissile material stockpiles, has Islamabad raised the issue directly with New Delhi? Is it possible for the two countries to engage in bilateral arms control efforts to slow the current arms race?

Akram: I mentioned in the talk today what we call the “strategic restraint regime.” The strategic restraint regime had three parts—has three parts, because it’s still on the table. One is strategic: that deals with a bilateral commitment not to test nuclear weapons, a commitment not to deploy new technologies such as ballistic missile defense systems or submarine launch systems, those kinds of destabilizing things. On the conventional side, we’ve offered discussions on balanced reduction of forces, conventional forces. And on the third, political side, we’ve advocated dialogue to resolve outstanding issues like Kashmir.

So, there is a comprehensive proposal out there. So far, what we have succeeded in is identifying and agreeing on some confidence-building measures such as early warning about missile tests, prior warning about military exercises, these kinds of small things. But we have not ventured into the critical areas.

This proposal was made in 1998-1999; now we’re more than 10 years after. In that time, a major shift has taken place, what I call the game changer. As a result of this U.S.-Indian nuclear deal and as a result of the NSG waiver and India’s arrangements, agreements with the United States, with Israel, with Russia on conventional arms buildup, plus transfer of ballistic missile technology, transfer of space technology, which can help build intercontinental ballistic missiles, and which also involves now leased Russian nuclear-powered submarines with submarine-launched missiles—all these are developments that have radically altered the strategic environment in South Asia and, at least from our perspective, encouraged a greater degree of belligerence on the part of the Indians.

[In the Stimson Center talk,] I mentioned Cold Start.[3] This has obviously raised concerns in Pakistan about our security vis-à-vis India. We’ve had to respond. We’ve taken measures that would ensure that we continue to maintain a credible deterrent. But we’re ready to talk to the Indians as well.

Unfortunately, of course, the Indians look at this discussion on strategic issues as something that does not involve only Pakistan. They say that, well, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is India specific, which it is. But they say that our nuclear capability is not Pakistan specific.

ACT: “Our” being India’s?

Akram: India’s. The Indians say that Indian nuclear capabilities are not Pakistan specific, so we’re not going to discuss it only with you.

ACT: Meaning it’s also China specific?

Akram: They don’t say that, but they imply it.

So now here too, I’m going back in time, in the early 1990s, before either side had tested in 1998, in the early 1990s when we were making all kinds of efforts to make progress on these things, we had actually convinced China to become a part of the 5-plus-2 discussion, which included the P5 plus India and Pakistan, in a dialogue to address these issues of nuclear buildup and security. That again was not acceptable to the Indians. So these things have been tried. Effort has been made for a dialogue, but you need a partner.

ACT: Some analysts have expressed concern that Pakistan’s development of smaller nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield, potentially in response to an Indian conventional attack, raises the risk of a nuclear war in South Asia. What proposals, if any, has your country recently discussed with or offered to India to reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange?

Akram: I think the most important approach here is to find ways to resolve our differences and reduce the existing tensions. That’s the most effective way of progressing on this front.

As long as that is not something that has been achieved, we need to have efficient, reliable confidence-building systems and measures, like a hotline, which we have, like advance notification of flights and other things, that we have. These are processes that are there. We can improve them, fine-tune them, increase their reliability and all these things, but we also need to be able to use them. Sometimes, situations have arisen where the hotline has never been used. These are very important things that we need to do, but overall, deterrence has to be made credible. That’s the only real way of ensuring, in the absence of anything else, a credible deterrent, which is the only way that we can preserve stability, peace, and security. This is what I said in that five-point plan that I mentioned [in the Stimson Center talk]; it’s just the first thing.

ACT: Part of the concern here is that developing these kinds of weapons potentially lowers the threshold for nuclear use and that it makes it easier for a conflict to escalate to the nuclear level. How do you factor that into the equation?

Akram: It does. But then, you see, we have to look at it from an action-reaction kind of process. What is it that we are trying to do here? We are trying to ensure that our deterrent remains credible. Why are we doing this? Because the situation has changed dramatically over the last five to 10 years, especially as a result of the kind of agreements and understandings that have been reached between the United States and India and some other countries that I mentioned.

This has brought a lot of qualitative change. It’s not just the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement; the nuclear cooperation is just part of a broader strategic engagement that involves transfer of a huge amount of advanced technology including [ballistic missile defense] technology. It involves opportunities for India to purchase the latest versions of fighter aircraft and other kinds of military equipment from the United States, Russia, Israel, and others.

We have to deal with capabilities. Any country will look at its opponent’s capabilities and then will have to assess how it is going to respond to these capabilities in order to ensure that its security is not compromised. This is the way we find is the most cost-effective way to do it. We can’t afford to be involved in a race with India tank for tank, aircraft for aircraft, submarine for submarine. We can look at other ways of trying to find the same solutions.

Yes, it causes a dangerous environment. It does. But both sides have to recognize that there is a shared interest in avoiding such a situation. That’s why I said that confidence-building measures—the best confidence building, of course, is to resolve your problems, so you don’t have any reason to be concerned. But short of that, you need to find ways to ensure that both sides are assured that nothing is happening that can cause alarm, and that requires effective confidence-building measures.

ACT: You already mentioned Pakistan’s and India’s nuclear tests in 1998. Subsequently, each country pledged not to be the first to resume testing. Has your government discussed how this mutual test moratorium might evolve into a legally binding, verifiable ban on nuclear test explosions? For instance, is Islamabad willing to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty if New Delhi does so?

Akram: Yes, we have said so. If India does, we will too.

ACT:  Is there any discussion about moving that ahead?

Akram: Between India and Pakistan? No, unfortunately we have not had a discussion on this, whether or not to move forward, on how to move forward. I think there is no real incentive for the Indians to move forward, actually. If you have been reading some of the work that’s coming out, George Perkovich [of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace] actually wrote that, with the kind of deal that’s been given to it, the NSG and the other things, the incentive for India to move toward the CTBT is even less.

ACT: What kind of incentives would be required, do you think, to move India to that position?

Akram: Not giving them more fissile material through preferential treatment. What more can I say? Our position is very clear.

ACT: Pakistan has linked its position on FMCT negotiations to its receipt of a waiver from the NSG so it can participate in global nuclear commerce, as India now can. How would the waiver address Pakistan’s concerns about the fissile material imbalance it sees?

Akram: It would give us access to civilian-use fissile material that we would be able to use for our civilian technology and for producing energy and whatever we need it for. But more important than the nuts and bolts of it is the principle of it, that Pakistan needs to be treated as a country which has as much of a legitimate right as India does to have a nuclear capability.

ACT: So it’s not on the substance of the fissile material issue, because the issue of your concern is fissile material for weapons. This wouldn’t address that, certainly not directly. Even indirectly, as we discussed earlier, it wouldn’t help Pakistan in the same way it helps India because India has a much larger program, and I don’t think you have the same shortfall of uranium that India does. It wouldn’t seem that this would have the same impact on Pakistan’s ability to produce fissile material for weapons as it would, under your scenario, for India.

Akram: But it would place us on a par. More than that, it would give us access to civilian nuclear technology that is being denied to us under these restrictions, allow us to engage in nuclear cooperation with other countries, and there is a whole host of things. If that requires us to be able to be a part of these negotiations on an FMCT, we are willing to pay the price to start these negotiations. There has to be some kind of a trade-off. We’ve been cut out of this whole business, even though Pakistan was not the one that started this nuclear race in South Asia in the first place.

So we are ready to be a part of this process if we are given equivalence, if we are treated on par with India.

ACT:  Just to clarify, if Pakistan had an NSG waiver like India, Pakistan would be willing to enter negotiations on an FMCT?

Akram: Yes.

ACT: Even with ambiguity about the mandate?

Akram: Yes. I mean, we would like to have a clearer mandate, but with the kind of situation that exists now, I don’t think that is something that is likely to happen.

ACT: How much support is there, do you think, within the NSG for such a Pakistan waiver?

Akram: I think there are very few countries—the thing is that it just takes one country to block in the NSG, because it’s by consensus. We feel that a case needs to be made in Pakistan’s favor just as a case was made by the United States in India’s favor. The argument that India has a better nonproliferation record than Pakistan was one of the issues that was cited. But I can show you statement after statement after statement, and sanctions after sanctions imposed on India by the United States itself for nonproliferation misdemeanors.

That’s not the argument. One of these Indian journalists was saying, “Well, what about [Abdul Qadeer] Khan?” I said the issue of A.Q. Khan is something which has been used again and again to deny us this kind of status. There are several examples of proliferation activities by India which were basically brushed under the carpet when it was decided to give the Indians this deal. So that is what is needed; you need basically a political decision that we have to move on and we have to change the game now. That’s what is required.

ACT: Is there a country in the NSG that is willing to do for Pakistan what the United States did for India? Do you have someone who is willing to make the case for you within the NSG?

Akram: I can’t speak for any other country. All I will say is that we have civilian nuclear cooperation with China. And that’s under IAEA safeguards; these nuclear reactors at Chashma, Chashma-1 and -2, are in operation; now we are working on [Chashma-]3 and -4. We do have nuclear cooperation. This is under a grandfather clause that the Chinese used when they joined the NSG.[4]

But we need to move beyond this. There are three countries that are not parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but have nuclear capability. You’ve given only one of them a special dispensation. There needs to be a criteria-based approach that would make all three eligible, if they want to engage in this thing. This is something that you can’t roll back. It’s like toothpaste out of a tube. What can you do? You have to deal with this reality.

ACT: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much; we appreciate it.



1. In 2008, the NSG agreed to exempt India from the group’s general rules by allowing India to receive nuclear exports from NSG members although New Delhi does not apply so-called full-scope safeguards, that is, does not open all its nuclear facilities to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. See Wade Boese, “NSG, Congress Approve Nuclear Trade With India,” Arms Control Today, October 2008.


2. The five countries recognized by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Because those are the same countries that make up the P5, the term “P5” often is used to refer to those countries in their role as NPT nuclear-weapon states.) Three additional countries—India, Israel, and Pakistan—have never joined the NPT and operate nuclear programs that are unsafeguarded.

3. “Cold Start” is an Indian military doctrine that involves quick, limited strikes in Pakistani territory in response to incursions from Pakistan into India.

4. When China joined the NSG in 2004, the other members of the group agreed that certain Chinese projects in Pakistan could be “grandfathered,” that is, China could continue with those existing projects although Pakistan does not accept full-scope safeguards. China reportedly has argued that Chashma-3 and -4 are covered by that agreement. See “The NSG in a Time of Change: An Interview With NSG Chairman Piet de Klerk,” Arms Control Today, October 2011; Daniel Horner, “China, Pakistan Set Reactor Deal,” Arms Control Today, June 2010.

As the Pakistani permanent representative to the UN Office at Geneva, Zamir Akram serves as Islamabad’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD). He has been a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service since 1978. From 2007 to 2008, he was additional foreign secretary for disarmament and arms control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ambition and Realism for the BWC Review Conference: An Interview With President-Designate Paul van den IJssel

Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Paul van den IJssel, the Dutch ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, is president-designate of the 2011 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Review Conference, which is scheduled to take place December 5 to 22. He is a career diplomat in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Van den IJssel spoke with Arms Control Today by telephone from Geneva on September 30 about the upcoming review conference. He said he was seeing a “convergence of views” on many of the key issues, but emphasized that there still is much work to be done to close the remaining divisions on technical and political issues.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity. A shorter version appeared in the November issue of Arms Control Today.  

ACT: Mr. Ambassador, you have made “ambitious realism” the motto of framing expectations for the review conference. What specific decisions to strengthen the BWC do you think the review conference can adopt? On which issues do you expect states-parties to focus? During your consultations so far, have there been particular issues where you think more work is needed to achieve consensus?

Van den IJssel: Let’s start with your last point. We are more than two months away from the review conference. A lot of work has been done, but of course a lot of work still has to be done as well. I think we have a lot of areas where we already have a kind of convergence of views. But there are also other areas where more work is to be done. Sometimes these are divisions of views that have to do with just technical issues, and sometimes there are slightly more politically based differences. So, that’s as a general comment.

It is unlikely that more than two months away you will have already consensus on many issues. But I’m still very positive. I think we’ve seen thinking developing in capitals, in delegations, and I think there is a lot of common ground on which we can work. That’s one.

What are the issues? Of course, it’s up to the states-parties to say what the issues are. But I tried to speak to as many as possible and quite frequently. I go to the regional groups, and I go to seminars and workshops. What I read and what I hear is basically that we more or less agree on what the main topics are. I’ll just give them in the order in which they come into my head; this is not a kind of priority order, certainly not my priority or the priority order of a particular state-party.

The first I want to mention is Article 10, the issue of assistance and cooperation on peaceful use of science and biotechnology. There is an interest among many states-parties to improve assistance and cooperation. So that is an issue, we will have to see how we can better organize ourselves. A lot is being done already, not always under the heading of the BWC because if you have public health programs, they may well be useful in the context of the BWC, but they probably are labeled under development cooperation or health cooperation.

Many countries would like to better organize that. Of course, there are different ideas on how to do that. Some say “I don’t want to have that”; others say “I want to have that.” That is a problem still. It is something we will have to look at.

Second issue is the issue of the intersessional process. We have five-year review conferences, but we also have had in the past years annual meetings, both on the expert level and of states-parties. We’ll have to discuss how we’re going to organize that in the next period, at least the next five years, perhaps longer, but certainly the next five years, and that is important.

First of all, we have to take a decision on that because if we don’t take a decision, there will be no intersessional meetings. This is not something where we can just sit on our hands and then everything will continue as it was. So basically, the discussion is there on how best to organize ourselves and what issues we want to discuss.

I must say there is a great convergence of views. What I hear is that most people say yes, we should continue with an intersessional process. Meeting every five years is not enough; we should meet annually. Most countries say there should be an intersessional process in one form or the other. I always have to be careful, but I think most countries say yes, and it’s also good to have a combination of experts meet and diplomats, representatives of states. Perhaps they jointly meet, or sometimes they separately meet. But that is considered by most states-parties as a good thing, and we should continue that. There are some proposals on the table to organize it slightly differently, so that is important.

Then of course, there is an issue there, and we have different views, whether we should be able to take some decisions in the intersessional process.[1] There you have different views, but we have to see whether we can find common ground there. If you talk about strengthening the convention, and that’s actually also true for Article 10, this is very much about strengthening the convention, because I think the point of departure is what we have. I think the proposals which are on the table aim to make it better.

Third point, science and technology. Again we have a lot of convergence of views that it’s important that we regularly have an idea on what’s happening in the fields of bioscience and biotechnology, to see whether everything we do is still relevant. I think everyone agrees. We have to decide on how to better structure that. There are some ideas on the table that we have a kind of annual review of developments in the field of science and technology. All very interesting ideas.

As I see it, there is a lot of convergence of views that we need to have a more structured approach to this thing because everyone is aware that developments in the field of bioscience and biotechnology are taking place at a very rapid pace and on a global scale. This is not just taking place in some countries, but many countries in the world are involved in bioscience and biotechnology and are becoming increasingly important players. So there we have to see how best to organize ourselves again. If we would find a mode where we would more structurally reflect on these issues, I think that is certainly strengthening the convention and the regime.

Another topic: confidence-building measures [CBMs]. We have a set of  CBMs agreed in 1986, politically binding, not legally binding but politically binding.[2] States-parties have committed to send information every year to the ISU [Implementation Support Unit], and the ISU then distributes that information to states-parties or makes it available on its Web site for states-parties. That includes informational things like how many BSL [biosafety level]-3, BSL-4 labs[3] do you have, unusual outbreaks of diseases, that kind of information.

We have a number of problems there. First of all, only half the states-parties participate and the question is, are these measures still as relevant as when they were developed? Now there is a lot of information which is available on the Internet. Thinking about some things has changed. So we have to look at these measures carefully to see whether we can perhaps make them more up to date, more relevant, and that also includes an effort to increase the participation. Perhaps we have to look at [whether] some questions pose an undue burden on administrations, on industry, on the scientific community. We have to look at that.

I think this analysis is shared by many parties, so we will have to look at whether we can find consensus on what the new measures would be, or what we’re going to change. I know some countries are very active in this and doing a lot of work. Again, my idea at present, and I’ve discussed this already with states-parties, is that we should try to take already some decisions at the RevCon [review conference], also some substantive discussions if possible, but also this is an issue on which further work may be required during the intersessional process. Then of course, you come back to this question, can we take decisions? If we can’t take decisions, then the intersessional process has to make a recommendation to the RevCon. If they can’t take decisions, then they can’t take decisions.

Next issue is the ISU. Again, this is not a priority order. I stress that. The ISU is very dear to my heart. We do not have a full-fledged organization like the [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] or the [International Atomic Energy Agency]. We have a very small unit consisting of three persons working very hard. Their main job is to help states-parties to implement the treaty, and they help the president [of the review conference], and I’m glad they do.

First of all, we have to decide on whether we continue with an ISU because its mandate expires.[4] I hear a lot of convergent views that we have to continue; at a minimum, we have to continue with the ISU in its present form because everyone is quite appreciative of its work and recognizes it’s important to have this small unit dedicated to the BWC. So that seems to be the point of departure.

But then, the discussion is, do we have perhaps to expand? They are now three persons; do we need to have four or five, and what do they have to do? Basically in a different order of course. First, what do they have to do, and do we need additional manpower or womanpower for that? Again, that’s a discussion. I think a lot of delegations say yes, it would be good if they had one or two additional staff members, because, for example, in the field of Article 10, they may have to do more, perhaps in the field of CBMs. If we’re going to change the intersessional process structure, that may cause some more work for them. Even now they have difficulties to do everything we want them to do. The end result will be, I hope, certainly if we expand [the ISU], that it would be strengthening of the convention.

Then the universality issue. This convention has, as of May this year, 164 members. That is quite a lot because 164 states is the overwhelming majority of states in this world. But still, it’s not enough. We would like to have universal membership. That’s also a special responsibility of the president.

I’ve had meetings with the states which are not yet parties to this treaty quite regularly, and I urged them to join. We had some positive responses, so I hope that we will have one or two more member states before the conference starts.[5] But this is very much ongoing work, work in progress. Maybe we have to decide on the kind of activities we will undertake in the next five years to encourage other states to become a party to this treaty. That is important because although the norm that you will not use bioscience as a weapon of war or a weapon of aggression or a weapon of terror is recognized by all governments and certainly by all populations, it would be still very useful if by subscribing to this norm, which is contained in this treaty, everyone would clearly see that this is really something notable. So I see it as a personal task, personal responsibility of the president as well, but it is also something where the broader group of states-parties has to do something.

Then another issue is the issue of compliance and verification that has been, over the last 10 years, always a bit controversial. There was a negotiation on a protocol which contained, among others, provisions on verification. That was turned down in 2001 because the United States had a great problem with that.[6] We are still discussing how we can still perhaps think of some other measures—compliance measures, demonstrating compliance, voluntary—we’ll have to see. There are also states that say, “No, we still should work toward a legally binding verification regime.” So that is a bit of a difficult knot to untie.

I hope that we will have a kind of nonideological, flexible debate and see what is achievable. I think that taking into account the positions of some countries, it’s very difficult to start to pick up the 2001 protocol negotiations again. But I hope we, or, I mean it’s not just me of course, but the states-parties, and the ISU, have some ideas where we could enhance compliance and measures which are acceptable to all. So that’s a challenge; we’re not yet there. But I’m hopeful because I hear on the one hand the ambitions of people who want to do something; on the other hand realism, knowing that you have to do it with 164, you need to have consensus on these measures.

So that is basically it. I may have forgotten one or two topics, but these are the topics which probably will play a main role at the RevCon. If we can find good solutions, in my view they strengthen the convention. You asked about “ambitious realism.” My ambition is that we will just do a little bit more than what you sometimes do in multilateral disarmament: find the lowest common denominator. No, we’ll find the highest common denominator. That’s what I hope.

ACT: Thanks very much. Can I follow up on a couple of the issues that you mentioned, maybe first on the last one that you mentioned: verification? One of the ideas that has been floated is to agree on a mechanism at the review conference to evaluate possible transparency and verification measures leading up to the next review conference, particularly in light of new technical developments over the last decade since the ad hoc group [established by the BWC parties to negotiate a legally binding compliance regime for the treaty] has failed. Do you think this is something that could achieve consensus, that you have such a new mechanism to look at monitoring and verification possibilities?

Van den IJssel: As I said, there is a discussion that, for example, we could have during the intersessional process, compliance and compliance measures. Perhaps. There are some suggestions that that could be kind of a revolving topic that comes back every year. Well, we can look at that. I wouldn’t [use] the word “mechanism,” but [rather] we say every year we’re going to discuss the possibility of enhancing compliance. How do we do that? Well, there are a number of ideas circulating, and states-parties may have different ideas. That may result in a number of agreements we strike on what we do. One of the ideas, for example, which circulated is voluntary visits to BSL-3 or BSL-4 facilities. There are a number of ideas out there. I think they could be perhaps the way in which we have to go. As I said, the word “mechanism”—well, we can call it a mechanism. I would say that it’s identified by many states as a topic on which we have to do further work on an annual basis in the intersessional process. That is how I understand what a lot of states-parties say.

ACT: You mentioned that some of the ideas to strengthen the CBM process would be agreed at the review conference. At the same time, the United States and others have mentioned the idea of a follow-on process to review the CBMs between this review conference and the next review conference. Do you think that is realistic?

Van den IJssel: Yes, that’s absolutely compatible with what I say. My idea, and I think a lot of states-parties have at least given me the idea that they have similar thoughts, is that we should try a two-track approach. The first track is being tried to get some decisions or some substantive measures on the CBMs at the RevCon. The second track is to give a mandate or an instruction, however you call it, a mandate to the intersessional process to discuss further work on the CBMs, because the CBMs are sometimes quite complicated, quite technical, and it’s very difficult in three weeks to come up with real conclusions on some of these issues. So they may need further work. My idea is not just to refer everything to the intersessional process. But as I said, two tracks. First track, take some substantive discussions and then say, “What is the further work which has to be done at the intersessional process?” Second track is that the intersessional process will do this further work. Then again the question, is that with the view to take decisions in the intersessional process or with the view to make recommendations to the next RevCon? That depends on this other discussion, but I think what you just said is completely compatible with this idea. From what I hear, at least, many countries are thinking along these lines.

ACT: I have a more general question also on the focus of the BWC. The U.S. national strategy for countering biological threats emphasizes the threat from nonstate actors misusing biological agents for hostile purposes. Is it your impression that this perspective is shared by the majority of states-parties?

Van den IJssel: I think that most states-parties agree. When the convention was drafted and negotiated and entered into force, it was the mid-1970s. Then, we had a different world. We had a world which was basically divided between East and West, and things like terrorism, nonstate actors, were, well, almost unknown entities. I exaggerate a bit because of course we always had nonstate actors, but if you talked about disarmament and arms control, you didn’t think about them. You thought about states and massive armies and strategies and tactics. I think we have all become aware, certainly since the 1990s, and certainly in the first decade of this century, that terrorism, nonstate actors have become a much more important element in discussions. I think that is widely shared.

The sixth review conference [in 2006] had wording on the use of biological agents as a terrorist weapon by, for example, nonstate actors, so I think there is a lot of agreement there.[7] We might again have to pay attention to that. But of course, nonstate [actors] are by nature not members of the convention. So it’s still states that have to do things. I haven’t noticed that there is broad disagreement on the idea that we should pay more attention not only to states, but also to nonstate actors and groups who would, may abuse bioscience for offensive purposes. The example always is the anthrax letters [in the United States in 2001]; that was not another state that did that, it was an individual, I think, who used that as a plot to spread horror and to kill people. Five or six people got killed. We are very much aware that is certainly a threat. Again, I don’t see any basic difference in the analysis

ACT: In past review conferences, sometimes specific allegations of noncompliance against states-parties have been a problem, and the United States continues to allege that some BWC members are not in compliance with their obligations under the treaty. How do you expect the review conference to address those and other concerns of noncompliance?

Van den IJssel: First of all, I haven’t heard of any country wanting to express specific allegations at this RevCon. I don’t know, maybe they haven’t told me. I haven’t heard. If they come, we will discuss them. Of course, you have a consultation mechanism that actually is not related to RevCons; you can use that at any time. It has been used once, when Cuba alleged the United States was using certain biological agents against crops.[8] Let’s again approach this from a more general point of view. I think that we have to look at the issue of compliance, transparency again, and see whether we can strengthen it. If you have concerns about specific countries, that may well be, but I think it’s also in the interest of all states-parties if we look at possibilities to better deal with these kinds of concerns. That would be my answer, and this is the discussion I’m involved in. I haven’t heard of, let’s say, at this point in time, any state that would like to make specific allegations. There may be concerns, but I haven’t heard of that in more specifics.

ACT: You mentioned the issue of universality. One region that’s of particular interest is the Middle East, which is in a period of political transition. Is it your impression, in your consultations also, that this opens up new opportunities for progress on universality?

Van den IJssel: I hope so. Of course, in the Middle East a lot is happening. In my consultations, I have talked to some countries in the Middle East who are not yet parties to this treaty. I very much urged them to join. I know that their position is slightly different from other parties, states who are not yet parties, because they link the behavior of other states to whether they will join the BWC. There is that link between the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention], and the BWC. In my consultations with them, I continue to tell them that—I, of course, listen very carefully to what they say, but I still think that there is no good reason not to join the BWC. I think there are a lot of states that subscribe to this norm, and I think [the Middle Eastern nonparties] do. I see no good reason [to refrain from joining the BWC] because then you don’t subscribe to the norm but nevertheless you abide by it. So what is the idea, that you’re going to break out? I don’t think so. So I urge them to join.

Second point is there may be a conference next year on a weapons of mass destruction [WMD]-free zone in the Middle East.[9] That is a conference, a first step, I hope, an important step toward a WMD-free zone. The topic of that conference is not just nuclear weapons; it’s all weapons of mass destruction including [biological weapons]. I already get invitations from events which are taking place in the context of that conference. We don’t even know where it will take place, but already the [European Union] had a seminar. I know there are other countries that have seminars, conferences, on this topic, and I very much try [to make sure] that the biological weapons element to it is present, to outline that it’s not just about one category of weapons of mass destruction, but certainly also about biological weapons, and again, I don’t see any reason why [the BWC] can’t be acceded to. As I said, I [listen] very carefully, and I must say my discussions with these countries are quite open, they’re very transparent and very friendly, and I hear what they say about linking the NPT and CWC and BWC to one another, but still I think [there is] no good reason not to sign up to the BWC. Hopefully, this conference next year—if it takes place, and I hope it does—will be another encouragement for these countries to accede to the convention.

ACT: Can I turn to one of the other specific issues that you mentioned, which is the ISU? You mentioned the discussion about strengthening that body. One other proposal that has been mentioned is to turn it into a permanent body to support the BWC. There’s also been a proposal to set up a bureau of regional representatives to improve interaction among states-parties. Are these two ideas something that states-parties might agree on at the review conference?

Van den IJssel: They are two separate things, of course. The first one is making the ISU more permanent. That is possible, that we will say that we’re not having the mandate expire by definition in 2016 but that it will continue unless we decide otherwise. That is a possibility. We have to see whether that is feasible. I think it’s quite logical to have a moment where you look at what you have decided in the past and say whether that’s all still appropriate. So you could do that in any different way. You say we continue unless we decide otherwise, for example, then you decide to evaluate what has happened. We have to see. I must say, so far, discussions where I’ve been present didn’t focus on that particular aspect; it was more on the expansion of the ISU and the continuation of the ISU. But it is a possibility.

Second point. I know that some countries, although I haven’t seen a concrete proposal yet, have argued that it would be good if we have some more state-party or political guidance process. Now it is more or less handed over from president to president, and if the review conference is over, I still may be involved. But that is not all formally quite clear and depends very much on the persons in question and whether you have time and if you are still in Geneva; if it’s somebody else, it’s difficult. So the idea I’ve heard most is to have a kind of permanent bureau, based on regional distribution as well—all the regions should be represented—which would be a kind of, call it, “administration”—more in the American sense than in the European sense—guiding body, however you like to call it—also giving guidance to the ISU in the period between RevCons.

I know this idea is out there, at least in the minds of some. Interesting ideas. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next two months, whether that will get support. It could be an element to enforce, to strengthen the regime. That’s why I have a very open mind to such proposals. But I haven’t seen it in writing yet. But it’s interesting.

There have been in other fields actually similar proposals. I remember at the NPT [review] conference such a suggestion was made. I very much agree with the idea that is behind it. After all, the states-parties own the convention; it’s not the ISU. The ISU is there to help us, and they do a great job. But at the end of the day, the success or the failure of some things we do is due to states-parties and not to the ISU. I think we all want to have a successful regime, so maybe this idea of having some more kind of small standing, guiding—“standing” is a big word, but [the idea] that you have kind of a guiding organ, is an interesting one. But we’ll have to see whether it flies. I must say I have heard it only a couple of times and haven’t seen a paper yet, but maybe that will change. As I said, we still have more than two months to go.

ACT: Final question. From your very personal perspective: This is a very broad range of issues here, but which three issues do you really think the review conference needs to focus on and address most urgently?

Van den IJssel: No, I can’t. I’ll just say there are two issues we have to take a decision or else things are changed. Those are the intersessional process and the ISU. The other things are important and different states may attach different value to different points. I think we have to solve them all and we have to look forward, and I think we can.

ACT: Thanks very much.



1. Since 2003, parties to the Biological Weapons Convention have held meetings in years in which a review conference did not take place. At these meetings, which address specific topics, the parties do not make decisions that would be legally binding.

2. Pursuant to understandings reached at the BWC review conferences in 1986 and 1991, BWC member states are politically bound to submit annual confidence-building measure data declarations covering a variety of topics relevant to compliance with the convention, including unusual outbreaks of infectious disease, maximum-containment laboratories, facilities that produce human vaccines, and national biodefense programs, facilities, and activities.

3. A biosafety level indicates the biocontainment precautions required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed facility. BSL-4 is the highest level.

4. At the last review conference, in 2006, the parties established the ISU; but at the insistence of the United States, the mandate contains a sunset clause according to which the next review conference will evaluate the unit’s performance and mandate. See Oliver Meier, “States Strengthen Biological Weapons Convention,“ Arms Control Today, January/February 2007.

5. Since the interview, Burundi became the 165th party to the treaty.

6. In 2001 the United States rejected a compliance protocol for the BWC on the grounds that the proposed verification mechanism would not improve or increase trust in compliance with the convention. See Rebecca Whitehair and Seth Brugger, “BWC Protocol Talks in Geneva Collapse Following U.S. Rejection,” Arms Control Today, September 2001.

7. In the final declaration of the 2006 review conference, the parties agreed that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and whatever its motivation, is abhorrent and unacceptable to the international community, and that terrorists must be prevented from developing, producing, stockpiling, or otherwise acquiring or retaining, and using under any circumstances, biological agents and toxins, equipment, or means of delivery of agents or toxins, for nonpeaceful purposes.”

8. In 1997, Cuba accused the United States of releasing Thrips palmi insects over its territory in order to attack the island’s agriculture. The incident became the first case to be discussed under the BWC Article 5 consultation mechanism. Under the consultations, it was not possible to reach a definitive conclusion with regard to the concerns raised by Cuba, but no follow-on actions were recommended.

9. At the 2010 NPT review conference, the parties to that treaty agreed to convene a conference in 2012 to be attended by all states in the Middle East “on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region, and with the full support and engagement of the nuclear-weapon states.” See Patricia Lewis and William C. Potter, “The Long Journey Toward a WMD-Free Middle East,” Arms Control Today, September 2011.

Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Iran’s Nuclear Program: An Interview with Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh

Interviewed by Peter Crail

Ali Asghar Soltanieh has served since 2006 as Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A nuclear physicist by training, he has held numerous diplomatic positions dealing with nuclear and other nonconventional weapons.

Soltanieh spoke with Arms Control Today on September 6 by telephone from his office in Vienna. The interview touched on many of the controversies surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and IAEA access to facilities that are part of the program.

The interview was transcribed by Kelsey Davenport. It has been edited for clarity and length.

ACT: On the diplomatic front, all of the countries involved in the nuclear impasse have said that they are committed to a diplomatic resolution. But attempts have not been successful so far. Russia has recently discussed with your country a proposal to revive negotiations, and your ambassador in Moscow had said that Iran accepted the generalities of that proposal. What aspect of the proposal does Iran accept, and what aspects would need additional consideration?

Soltanieh: As my foreign minister said after the meeting with his Russian counterpart, we have welcomed the initiative, and we are studying this proposal. In my country, officials are studying it and will reflect appropriately. This is outside the domain of my responsibility being the permanent representative to all international organizations [in Vienna], including the IAEA. But at least I can repeat what the position is, that we have already welcomed this initiative and we are considering it carefully, the proposal. At the same time, I have to say what has happened recently in the context of the IAEA is the visit of the deputy director-general, Mr. [Herman] Nackaerts. I also accompanied him to Iran for a one-week visit to all nuclear installations and also talks with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization [of Iran (AEOI)] and the vice president of Iran, which in fact were the biggest step toward transparency and cooperation. Therefore, we have in fact started this process of taking a step in a proactive approach, and therefore we are waiting to see what the steps are from the other side. We expect that this biggest step of cooperation from our side would be welcomed, and we would be encouraged to take further steps.

ACT: You mentioned the recent visit by Mr. Nackaerts, and I understand that, during that visit, Iran provided access to some additional sites that previously the IAEA had not been allowed to visit with regularity. What was the rationale for allowing those visits?

Soltanieh: First of all, we had decided to make sure that the [IAEA] and the Department of Safeguards and Mr. Nackaerts, who was visiting in his capacity as deputy director-general for the first time, would have a sort of blank check. As I mentioned at the beginning of the visit, he can go wherever he wants, and in fact it happened. When we were visiting the sites that are declared and normally inspected by inspectors, he requested possibly that he could see the production of the heavy-water plant. Therefore I got the approval of my authorities. Therefore, he was able to, with his deputies accompanying him, visit that plant. This was for the first time after some years; the reason we didn’t see and we still don’t see an obligation [to provide such access routinely] is because the heavy-water plant, for example, is covered by the additional protocol, and we are not implementing the additional protocol any more, since the UN Security Council is involved in this matter. So that was one of the things.

Also, of course, during his visit, he requested that we grant access to see the R&D, research and development, on the advanced centrifuges. It was a very, very difficult decision. But I am proud and grateful to inform you that my authorities finally agreed, and he visited the R&D [facilities], and he was able to see all the advances in research and development on different generations of centrifuges. He also had the opportunity to see the workshop as well as the simulation activities. I declared that nobody in the whole world has shown these centrifuges and R&D to the inspectors of the IAEA. Even in EURATOM [European Atomic Energy Community], they are not showing [such facilities to] the inspectors of EURATOM in Europe. Therefore, we have done something unprecedented in the history of IAEA; and I hope that, with this biggest step, which is 100 percent transparency, we have given a strong message to all involved, particularly those who have been negotiating with us, the P5+1[the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany]. Also [I hope] that they receive this message, that if there is no language of threat, sanctions, or this sort of obsolete policy of carrot and stick, that if the approach is of a logical, civilized request in a very friendly, cooperative environment, then the answer is yes. I have said previously in one of these interviews, that if you tell Iranians that they must do something, then they will say no with a loud voice. But if you say please do so, the answer is yes, or we will try our best. That is what has happened during this visit.

ACT: You had said that the visits to the R&D facilities were unprecedented. My understanding is that the agency did have access to certain R&D facilities when Iran was implementing the additional protocol. Is that correct?

Soltanieh: The last time was when [IAEA Deputy Director-General] Mr. [Olli] Heinonen and [IAEA Director-General] Mr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei, in [ElBaradei’s] last visit in October 2009, had the chance to visit the R&D [facilities], yes. That was also a sign of maximum cooperation transparency. [We agreed to] the request of Mr. ElBaradei to visit the R&D facilities―though Iran is not implementing the additional protocol or 3.1 modified code[1]―as a sign of cooperation beyond its legal obligation. Unfortunately, soon after such a big step, when [ElBaradei] was back in Vienna, there was another resolution in the Security Council. Therefore, we found out that no matter how much we cooperate, those who have a hidden agenda, a political agenda, are not cooperating and are just following different tracks. That is what my strong and clear message this time is. Hopefully, all countries and the IAEA [will] show maximum vigilance to protect this new trend of cooperation transparency, and we will not be faced with disappointing words or actions that will disappoint us for continuing such cooperation and transparent measures even beyond our legal obligation as we did during his last visit.

ACT: On the issue of transparency, [AEOI director] Mr. [Fereydoun] Abbasi said recently that Iran would be ready to grant the agency full supervision over its nuclear activities for five years if UN sanctions were lifted. Can you provide any further details on this proposal, and what full supervision would mean?

Soltanieh: We always have had safeguards applied in Iran under the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] comprehensive safeguards, and everything has been under control by the IAEA. But at the same time, the nuance in the direction of what we have done during [Nackaerts’] visit means that we are ready to cooperate fully with the agency and help that they not have any ambiguity about the exclusively peaceful nature of our activity, provided that we are not facing punitive actions, including sanctions.

ACT: Just to be clear, so is Iran saying that sanctions would have to be lifted first, before that full supervision would be allowed?

Soltanieh: Well of course, as I said, this is the expectation. And we have already taken the step in fact—if you say, which one first, which one next, we have already taken this step. Now it is their turn.

ACT: On the critical issue of enrichment, Iran has often said that it would not give up enrichment. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said publicly that Iran would have the right to enrichment under IAEA inspections at some future date, but only after it had addressed international concerns about its nuclear program. Now if Iran’s primary concern is about what it calls its nuclear rights, why hasn’t Iran been willing to negotiate with the P5+1 with the understanding outlined by Secretary Clinton?

Soltanieh: You see there is a dilemma here. First of all, the inalienable right of the countries for the peaceful use of nuclear energy including fuel cycle and enrichment, that is already in the statute of the IAEA and NPT Article IV.[2] Therefore, the recognition is already there. The only thing that we always said and expect is not to create obstacles for us or any other country to benefit from these inalienable rights enshrined in the statute and the NPT. Calling for suspension is in fact a violation of that right and a violation of the spirit and letter of the statute.

I just want you and your distinguished readers to go to the NPT text and IAEA statute. You can never find in any of these documents the notion of suspension. Suspension was invented for Iran, and the verification of suspension was invented for Iran. Therefore, according to these legal documents, nobody could say to any country that you should suspend your nuclear activities. The only thing is that the IAEA should verify the declaration by member states and monitor and control those activities to make sure that there is no diversion toward military or prohibited purposes. That is exactly what we want. Therefore if the United States or other countries understand that they should not contradict themselves with these principles and international legal documents, then we are in the same boat and the same place. We should have the same understanding of what we are talking about.

The P5+1 negotiation also—in a statement, [Iranian chief nuclear negotiator] Dr. [Saeed] Jalili clearly mentions that this is a matter of principle. Why don’t you announce that both of us are respecting this principle? The second principle is that if we want to negotiate and talk to each other, toward confidence building or further cooperation and strengthening our understanding of cooperation, then there should not be the language of threats or sanctions or punitive action. These are contradicting each other. The same thing that I said, the language of carrot and stick is the language applied to the animals and is humiliation for all countries, including mine, with thousands of years of civilization.

ACT: Now you mentioned that the NPT does talk about the rights to peaceful uses. Doesn’t it also talk about responsibilities for states to adhere to IAEA safeguards? It seems that the IAEA has not been satisfied with Iranian cooperation to date.

Soltanieh: I am 100 percent in agreement with you that, in the NPT, rights and obligations go side by side. I agree with that. But according to the NPT, we do have a comprehensive safeguards agreement, which is documented in INFCIRC/153, the model [safeguards] agreement [for NPT non-nuclear-weapon states]. And of course for Iran, that is [INFCIRC/] 214. According to legal obligations, we are fully compl[ying with] and fully committed to it. But the situation now, which is very unfortunate and disappointing, is that the IAEA is in fact referring to the Security Council resolutions and asks [for] additional access or requests beyond the NPT comprehensive documents. And that is the problem. We do not consider it a legal basis for the UN Security Council resolution. On many occasions, I have mentioned, particularly in the board of governors of the IAEA, I have proved to the whole world that these are legal documents, that the UN Security Council has no legal basis. [There are f]ive clear reasons that I want you to record and reflect to your distinguished readers, so that they know exactly why we are not implementing the UN Security Council resolution.

The first reason is, according to Article XII.C of the [IAEA] statue, the noncompliance of a member state should be recognized by inspectors, because the inspector has the access to the places, the materials, confidential information, and individuals.[3] Then if they report noncompliance to the director-general, the director-general then should refer [the matter] to the board of governors. But in the case of Iran, after years of negotiation between the EU-3 [France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, a group that later was expanded into the P5+1] and Iran and robust inspections, then in 2006, some diplomats, European and Americans, being on the board of governors, themselves judged that there was noncompliance before 2003. Therefore, this is in 100 percent contravention with the statute, [Article] XII.C. That is one reason.

The second reason is that, in Article XII.C, it says that the country that is referred to the Security Council is the recipient country. It means that when this article was written decades ago, for the country that is receiving nuclear materials and equipment from the IAEA and misuses it for nonpeaceful purposes, that is noncompliance. That is why this article says that the recipient country should be referred to the Security Council and that the country should return the equipment or materials to the IAEA. But in the case of Iran, this is not applied because we were not the recipient country of nuclear materials or equipment for Natanz enrichment or other activities.

The third reason that the Security Council has no legal basis is that the country’s issue should be referred to the Security Council if there is proof of diversion of nuclear material to military or prohibited purposes. In the old reports of the IAEA, under the former director-general ElBaradei and [Yukiya] Amano, the new director-general, you see this language that says that there is no evidence of diversion of nuclear materials to prohibited purposes. Therefore, this does not apply to Iran.

The fourth reason is that if there are obstacles for inspectors to go to a country, for example North Korea, when the inspectors were not permitted to [go], then this matter should be sent to New York. But in the case of Iran, you can see in all the reports of the director-general over the last eight years that the director-general says that the IAEA is able to continue its verification in Iran. It means that there have been no obstacles whatsoever for inspectors to come to Iran. That is the fourth reason.

The fifth reason is very important and, in fact, pressing and very disappointing. In the resolutions of the EU-3 in the board of governors, before this matter was sent to New York or New York was involved, the Security Council in their own resolution, they confess, confirm that the suspension of enrichment was a non-legally binding, confidence-building, and volunteer measure. If this is non-legally binding, then how come that, after two and a half years, we stopped the suspension, then they turned to the board of governors and said that Iran has violated its obligation and is not legal, [that] Iran should continue its suspension? They admit themselves that it is not legally binding.

Because of these five reasons, the resolution of the board of governors sending this matter to New York and the UN Security Council resolution have no legal basis, and Iran has not implemented, has not applied, and will not implement this resolution because there is no legal basis.

There is another problem, a technical problem, which says that reprocessing should be in breach, but if you read Amano’s report this week, it says there are no reprocessing activities in Iran. How can we suspend what does not exist in Iran? These are the legal and technical problems of this resolution.

ACT: On the suspension issue, looking at it from another angle, Iran has an agreement with Russia for fuel for the Bushehr reactor for the next 10 years. Is it possible that Iran can simply decide for itself that it does not need further enriched uranium in the near term and address international concerns and then start enriching again once it has a need to?

Soltanieh: Please bear in mind that, for the Bushehr power plant, we have only received the first [fuel] load, which is roughly 80 [metric] tons, and after one year we [will] need another 28 tons or so. We do not have any guarantee or any agreement for another five years or the 30 years of its work. Having said so, we have also a lot of experiences of confidence deficits in the past. You know that, for the [Tehran] Research Reactor [TRR], we paid over $2 million to the Americans before the [1979 Iranian] Revolution for new fuel, but we received neither the fuel nor the money after the revolution. Then we got the fuel from Argentina. Now this fuel is going to be finished and burned up. It is over two years that we have had discussions with this so-called Vienna Group—the Americans, French, and Russians in the IAEA—when ElBaradei was chairing the meeting. After two years, we have not received the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Even if we made a historic concession following a recent initiative with our friends from Brazil and Turkey and we made an agreement [in] the Tehran Declaration that we give them not only the money [but also] 1,200 kilograms of uranium and send it to Turkey, [the Vienna Group countries] have not shown any flexibility, and they have not come to the negotiating table. So we do not have any other choice, because of all these confidence deficits, but to continue our enrichment, of course under the political safeguards of [the] IAEA.

ACT: You mentioned the Tehran Research Reactor. Iranian officials have recently said that Iran has produced essentially enough 20 percent enriched uranium for the TRR but that it would continue to produce 20 percent enriched uranium for reactors that Iran intends to build in the future. How much 20 percent material does Iran intend to produce?

Soltanieh: So far, according to this report of the IAEA, we have produced 70.8 kilograms. You know that if we had the negotiations [leading to a] successful agreement made by the Vienna Group, we were expecting to receive under that contract roughly 120 kilograms, the same amount that we received from Argentina over 10 years back. But during past years, the reactor was not working full days, full weeks, and [at] full power. Therefore, we were able to have that amount of material for about 10 years or so. But with these existing demands of the hospitals, one million patients almost, we need to produce almost weekly, this material is perhaps the maximum four or five years. Therefore, we have to make sure that we would not have any fuel shortage.

Apart from [the TRR], we have been intending to have other reactors in Iran because unfortunately we have had many problems in receiving the radioisotope from some countries that have the monopoly. I remind you that, in the last two or three years, the world has faced the molybdenum crisis because of the Canadian reactors having problems, and others. These humanitarian aspects cannot be ignored. Therefore, we want our reactors to be able to produce [amounts large enough to meet] the demand. If we would be successful producing radioisotopes in large amounts, we have officially announced publicly that we would produce and give the radioactive isotope needed in neighboring countries in the region also.

ACT: How much fuel does the TRR have left, or how much longer is the TRR able to run?

Soltanieh: It is not working six days a week or so because we have to be cautious; we do not want to run out. We try to at least have some sort of continuity of producing radioactive isotopes. I don’t know exactly, but the time is running out. We have to speed up the production of fuel. But as you noticed, it was also in the IAEA report, we have had some achievement in working toward making the fuel rods on our own. Before this fuel is running out and the reactor will be shut down, hopefully we will be able to have the first fuel made by Iran in the core of the reactor.

ACT: Regarding the production of 20 percent uranium, what was the reason for the decision to move production to the Fordow plant?

Soltanieh: The answer is very simple, the continuation of threat from Israel, against all international laws and resolutions of the IAEA. In fact Fordow’s very reason for existence is because of the augmentation of the Bush administration’s threat of attack and also Israeli [attack]. Otherwise, we did not want to have another investment. Now we have the 20 percent [enriched uranium]; we have to make sure it would be in a safer position, that is why we decided to put the 20 percent there. The rest of the activities will, of course, continue in Natanz because Natanz is designed for lower enrichment, up to 5 percent, to produce the fuel needed for power plants.

ACT: Now speaking of additional plants, Mr. Abbasi recently said that Iran did not have plans to build new enrichment facilities over the next two years, whereas Iran previously said that there are plans to build 10 new enrichment facilities and last year a site for the first of those 10 had been found. I was wondering if you could explain the shift.

Soltanieh: This is the updated decision because we had been exploring the possibilities; all the decisions will be a function of the political environment of the whole world and also the technical requirements. Therefore, based on these things, the decision is really clear: we have decided for 20 percent [enrichment] in Fordow and the rest of the activities up to 5 percent are going to be at Natanz. Of course, we are doing our R&D, and we did a new generation of centrifuges [that are] faster, [with] more production, more efficiency. That is what we are doing. We are continuing our R&D to have better machines with better qualities and efficiency to put in at Natanz.

ACT: Going back a bit to the issue of confidence-building measures and negotiations: During Iran’s previous negotiations with the EU-3 in 2005, your government proposed a number of possible confidence-building steps intended to be implemented while a long-term resolution was sought. This included shipping out Iran’s low-enriched uranium [LEU] or converting all of the LEU immediately to fuel rods. Is Iran still willing to carry out those kinds of steps as part of confidence-building arrangements with the P5+1?

Soltanieh: With due respect, these are obsolete now because we are facing very speedy developments in the international arena and also in Iran’s nuclear development. Now in this situation where we are, the only thing I can advise to those who have not been able to understand or have not been able to cope with the reality on the ground is, we are the master of enrichment technology; we are continuing enrichment; we have, as it is reported [by the IAEA], old enrichment activities, [which] are at the same time under the IAEA [safeguards]. We cannot go backward. All activities are there, and almost every week, inspectors are in Iran, 24-hour cameras working, and as you noticed in the reports of the [director-general], there is no question whatsoever about the enrichment activities. Everything is clear. In these [previous] years, there have been some questions about contamination and other matters, but all issues related to our nuclear activities are resolved. The only things that they are raising in the IAEA are some sort of allegations by a couple of countries, including the United States—allegations of some studies, these allegations that we are aiming at going to possible military dimensions, which are all fabricated. We do not have any problem whatsoever with the IAEA regarding our old activities, which are under safeguards. Therefore, those proposals have no utility any more. We expect the countries concerned and the IAEA to not only cope with these realities but also welcome Iran’s proactive measures and steps taken recently and all together try and prevent any further politicization of the IAEA and let the IAEA do its professional work with Iran and resolve any questions left.

ACT: That leads me to my next question about these alleged studies. Now if, as you say, the accusations are baseless, while you note that Iran has cooperated with the IAEA on a number of outstanding issues, the agency says that it has not received the cooperation that it would like to try and resolve the alleged-studies issue. Now if the accusations are in fact baseless, why not provide the IAEA with the access that it requests in order to demonstrate just that?

Soltanieh: Well, I want to remind you that, in fact in August 2007, Iran made a historic decision at the highest level of the country after the preliminary discussion between [Iranian nuclear negotiator] Dr. [Ali] Larijani and [EU foreign policy chief] Mr. [Javier] Solana and Mr. ElBaradei; then Iran decided to make a maximum concession. We negotiated with the IAEA, and we concluded a work plan, or so-called modality, of how to deal with these outstanding issues, which is INFCIRC/711. I request everybody to go to the Web site of the IAEA and read [the document]; the IAEA confirmed [it], and it was endorsed by the board of governors.

In that document, it says that the IAEA has no more questions than the questions listed in these documents in the modality, or work plan. There were six issues, and it said that if Iran and the IAEA will discuss and resolve these issues, then the safeguards in Iran will be implemented in a routine manner. Unfortunately, after the six issues were resolved—and in two reports, ElBaradei reported that these were resolved—still, this matter is pending. One of the other matters raised was the so-called alleged studies, or so-called American laptop. Although in this modality it was very clear, agreed upon by both sides, that the IAEA should deliver the documents and Iran merely give in its response its assessment of those documents. No more and no less. No more visits or interviews or sampling, no visits to places, nothing.

But unfortunately after that, first the Americans did not tell the IAEA to deliver the documents, and the director-general harshly criticized the Americans that they have jeopardized the documentation process, but he asked us to show flexibility. We agreed. Then the inspectors came with a PowerPoint presentation rather than delivering the documents to us. Apart from it, we had the meeting that we were not supposed to have; we had a 100-hour meeting, and during that meeting, we tried to go slide by slide and explain to them over a 100-hour meeting and 117 pages of written documents we gave confidentially to the IAEA. We explained one by one why these documents are false and fabricated. Therefore, we expected that this file will be closed after six months or a year. Now after three, four years, this matter still is not closed because the IAEA says it has received more allegations from some open sources. This cannot continue; this is an endless process. At some point, we have to put an end to this process. That was the issue that we raised.

However, in spite of that, in the last month, after the meeting of Dr. Abbasi and Dr. [Ali Akhbar] Salehi, our foreign minister with the director-general in Vienna, they tried to show the flexibility or cooperation to say that, first, the inspectors or the officials of the IAEA are invited to visit Iran and then, after that, we said that we are ready to see how we can deal with this. If you read Amano’s report, it gives not only positive reports about the inspections, [but] also he has mentioned in one of the paragraphs on the possible military dimension issue that there has been discussion in Iran, that we have had preliminary talks on how to deal with this issue. But of course, there are concerns, security concerns that we have—the release of confidential information, which many times has happened in the IAEA and many other matters. But we have proved in the past that these allegations are baseless, and we are ready to prove it again, to make sure that this is the case, because we are against nuclear weapons, we don’t have any nuclear weapons program, and all activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.

The problem is unfortunately that people have forgotten, and they are not reading the past reports of the director-general. I recall several allegations by Americans about the military sites like Parchin and Lavizan. In all these sites, one by one, it took sometimes a year or more, but if you spend the time, the inspectors and then the director-general reported that they have not found any evidence of nuclear material activities. We cannot continue this matter. If the allegations prove baseless, then that country [making the accusations] has lost its credibility, and the agency should not listen or take into consideration their accusation that they receive in a sort of open-source manner. That is the problem that we are facing. But I hope that soon we will see a new trend, we will put an end to those questions, and this matter after all these years will be removed from the agenda of the board of governors.

ACT: Just to follow up on that quickly, you mentioned the discussions that were held recently between Iran and the IAEA on those studies. Is there a possibility for follow-on talks on that issue? Was there some agreement that there would be some procedure to try and resolve some of the agency’s questions?

Soltanieh: Today we had the technical briefing by Mr. Nackaerts for member states on this report. He also informed [the members] about the visits, honestly expressed his appreciation, called this visit a transparency visit and a turning point, and [said] he appreciated it. We expect a positive response to these proactive measures by Iran so that we will be encouraged to continue the process started pursuant to talks in Iran between Mr. Nackaerts and Mr. Abbasi.

ACT: Moving away a bit from the inspections issue: The Bushehr reactor was recently hooked up to Iran’s energy grid and began generating electricity. According to the IAEA, Iran is the only country with an operating nuclear power reactor that is not member of the Convention on Nuclear Safety. Now, particularly in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan, why isn’t Iran signed up to the international nuclear safety standards?

Soltanieh: I refer you to the statement of Mr. Abbasi, who participated in the ministerial meeting on nuclear safety after the Fukushima [accident], in Vienna in June. In his statement, he officially concluded by saying, “I have the honor to announce that we have started the process of ratification.” That answer is already given to the whole world.

We are attaching great importance to nuclear safety, and we have said many times that one of the reasons that we have spent more and more money for the Bushehr power plant and the operation and start-up was delayed was because the country was insisting that the requirements of high standards, safety standards, be implemented. We have had a very big project with the IAEA for almost the last decade. During this project, the top experts of the whole world through the IAEA have been advising Bushehr for nuclear safety, and they still are.

ACT: My final question has to do with the discussion about a WMD [weapons of mass destruction]-free zone in the Middle East. Iran of course was the first country to call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region. What is your government’s perspective regarding the planned conference on the WMD-free zone next year?[4]

Soltanieh: I have already written a letter to Mr. Amano reflecting our position. We have already said that while Iran has been the first country since 1974 asking for a Middle East [nuclear-weapon-free] zone, unfortunately, the main obstacles have been Israel’s nuclear capability and not joining the NPT. Therefore, we considered that the only measure toward a Middle East free zone that would be meaningful would be if the whole international community put pressure on Israel to join [the] NPT promptly without delay and put all nuclear activities under the IAEA and destroy all nuclear weapons capabilities and nuclear weapons facilities. And that is the only way to do it. In fact, this was the case in all other regions [with nuclear-weapon-free zones], I presume. We cannot accept that there is a nonparty to the NPT in the region and trying to ignore the demands of the countries in the region.

There is a serious security concern by all the countries in the region if Israel continues its nuclear weapons program; there is a serious question since [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert announced that they possessed nuclear weapons, and after avalanches of pressure and criticism in the IAEA, the representative of Israel denounced and rejected the position of his prime minister. This is a very ridiculous situation. In fact in that meeting, I asked the director-general to send a fact-finding mission to see if the prime minister is telling the truth or the representative [is]. Later on in the [IAEA] General Conference, I said that my country is willing to take the cost of all fact-finding missions in Israel by the IAEA. Up until now, these questions still exist; the Middle East free zone cannot be realized unless the Israelis promptly join the NPT and put all nuclear facilities and activities under the full-scope safeguards of the IAEA, and that is it. Any forum by the IAEA and by the United Nations on the Middle East, following the 2012 conference, following the 2010 NPT Review Conference, where we made a compromise to join the consensus, will not be successful unless this problem, the main problem in the Middle East, will be resolved. We are in a vicious cycle because of Israel, and the international community should understand it. We all should be united; every country of the whole world that really wants a Middle East free zone and is really genuinely looking for a world free from nuclear weapons should put pressure on Israel to abide by the international call.

ACT: Understanding your government’s perspective on Israel and the NPT, regarding the zone, as we know from the Middle East resolution, it addresses nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Beyond the issue of Israel joining the NPT, what steps is Iran prepared to take to help move the region in the direction of finally concluding a zone free of weapons of mass destruction?

Soltanieh: Of course, in the IAEA, the concentration is on the nuclear-weapon-free zone, but as a matter of principle since Iran is in fact the only country in the Middle East that is party to all disarmament treaties on weapons of mass destruction—the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention], CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention], and NPT—and we are a signatory of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] so we would support of course a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction. You know, there are other countries, at least, joining the CTBT and the NPT, but Israel is not party to any of them.[5] Therefore in principle, yes, Iran is supporting a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction, and we will expend effort in that direction.

ACT: I think that is a good note to end on. I want to thank you again, Mr. Ambassador, for joining us.

Soltanieh: I wish you all the best. I hope this kind of interaction will help your distinguished readers to a better understanding of this whole issue. Let us hope that we will soon have this whole issue resolved and the IAEA will be depoliticized and depolarized because the polarization and politicization of the IAEA is dangerous for the future of the agency. Let’s hope for a better future and peace and prosperity all over the world, and thank you very much for your time.


[1] Code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to IAEA safeguards agreements specifies when a state is required to declare facilities to the agency. The IAEA originally said that states must declare nuclear facilities six months prior to introducing nuclear material, but modified the code in 1992 to require countries to inform the agency of facilities “as soon as the decision to construct or to authorize construction has been taken, whichever is earlier.” Iran agreed to the modified code in 2003, but reverted to the original version in 2007. The IAEA maintains that Iran is bound by the stricter, modified code.

[2] The first clause of Article IV of the NPT states: “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” Article I of the treaty only applies to the five nuclear-weapon states, while Article II requires that non-nuclear-weapon states not obtain or seek to obtain nuclear weapons.

[3] For the text of Article XII, see www.iaea.org/About/statute_text.html#A1.12.

[4] NPT members agreed in 1995 on a resolution to work toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, states-parties agreed to hold a conference in 2012 aimed at making progress toward establishing such a zone.

[5] Iran is a party to the CWC, BWC, and NPT and has signed the CTBT. Israel has signed the CWC and CTBT.

Interviewed by Peter Crail

The ‘Pursuit of a Win-Win Situation’ at the Conference on Disarmament: Questions and Answers With Wang Qun

Wang Qun is Chinese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary for disarmament affairs and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), a position he has held since 2007. He was president of the CD from March 21 to May 29, 2011. He agreed to answer written questions from Arms Control Today on the CD’s current stalemate, which is preventing progress on the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and on other disarmament issues.

ACT: In your March 17 address to the CD, you said, “In my view, [the] CD’s deadlock is attributable first and foremost to political factors. The CD’s work is like a barometer of the evolving international security situation.” From China’s perspective, what are the political and security factors that are leading some states to block the implementation of formal talks on a verifiable FMCT and other elements of the CD work plan?

Wang: The CD deadlock is indeed attributable primarily to political and security factors. This is presumably self-evident as the relevant countries already have been most forthcoming and explicit, on the record, as to what difficulties they see in embarking on a process of negotiating an FMCT at the CD. However, it should be noted that different countries sought or have sought, at different points over the past 12 years, to block the CD negotiation of an FMCT out of various political or security considerations.

Countries may differ in terms of their size or position; their security concerns could, nevertheless, equally be relevant at the CD and subsequently bear on its work. This is a fact of life before us, and such concerns should be duly addressed.

ACT: Some countries have suggested that the consensus rule should not be applied to procedural matters at the CD and should instead be restricted to substantive work in order to prevent a single state from using procedure to prevent the start of negotiations. What is China’s position on this matter? From your position as CD president, are there any other procedural adjustments that can help make the CD a more efficient and effective part of the UN disarmament machinery?

Wang: From China's perspective, what needs to be sorted out in the first place is whether the current CD deadlock stems from the machinery per se. Although it is true that some dislike the CD because they find its consensus rule detestable, others like the CD precisely for this reason. If the CD is a body with inherent flaws, then why, within the same mechanism and under the same rules of procedure, was it able to negotiate and conclude treaties such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Chemical Weapons Convention, and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? This question merits our reflection.

As CD president, I am open to any suggestions and stand to be guided by member states as to whether or how procedural adjustments should be made so as to help make the CD a more efficient and effective part of the UN disarmament machinery. That, I believe, is not only the right of member states, but also provided for in explicit terms in the existing Rules of Procedure of the Conference on Disarmament.

ACT: What steps is your government taking to persuade Pakistan to allow the CD to begin the long process of negotiations on the fissile material production issue? What steps could other countries undertake to address Pakistan’s stated concerns about an FMCT?

Wang: Beijing believes that a negotiated FMCT at the CD is in everyone’s interests and wishes to see those negotiations commence as soon as possible. We thus have been doing our very best to make the case to all relevant interlocutors, including Pakistan. For an FMCT to be meaningful, it is essential that all countries with the capability of producing fissile materials be on board.

Pakistan has its concerns about an FMCT, but exerting pressure on Pakistan at every turn, for fear of Islamabad’s blocking of the CD, is undesirable if not counterproductive. To make it worse, such fears may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is desirable is to give equal weight to the legitimate security concerns of various countries in pursuit of a win-win situation based on security for all. In the meantime, the dialogue between the countries concerned is also crucial if the issues related to the CD deadlock are to be put behind us.

ACT: In your view, how can the current CD impasse be broken, so that the CD can commence its negotiation of an FMCT? Is there any specific formula to that end?

Wang: As the current CD deadlock is primarily attributable to political factors, the solution lies in political will and political wisdom, coupled with the right perception and working methods. In this context, we should work to detect and identify any evolving consensus even in the embryonic stages, especially by proceeding from the actual effects, with an FMCT as the objective.

The CD is now bogged down in a debate about how to define or characterize, in the context of the CD’s program of work, its ongoing exercise, i.e., “negotiation“ or “discussion“ of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. In the meantime, we should not fail to recognize the following basic common understanding, i.e., no delegation has hitherto sought to dispute the early commencement, on the basis of the CD’s balanced and comprehensive program of work, of its substantive work, which naturally covers the subject of the above treaty on the basis of the Shannon mandate (CD/1299 of March 24, 1995). Moreover, there has been, in fact, constructive and serious work at the CD, inter alia, on such a treaty, especially since the beginning of this year.

Although some may see the above common understanding as insignificant, it should not be belittled. On the other hand, the current CD debate on “negotiation“ versus “discussion,” no matter how significant, should not be unduly emphasized, especially with the caveat that the CD exercise is not linguistic in nature. Further, it is axiomatic that, if a treaty is reached, the process leading up to its conclusion can only be negotiation whereas, even if no one seeks to dispute embarking on a “negotiating process,” there could be considerable skepticism about whether it may produce something to that effect as long as a treaty remains elusive.

So, what do we want, “negotiation” or an FMCT? This question merits our serious reflection, on the basis of the 2009 program of work (CD/1864 of May 29, 2009), if an FMCT is really the aim.

ACT: The CD has long been considered to be the sole multilateral negotiating body on disarmament. Given the availability of other forums for discussing disarmament issues, how can the CD maintain its distinct role if it cannot begin substantive talks on issues of interest to many countries, including a fissile material cutoff, weapons in space, and negative nuclear security assurances? If the CD remains deadlocked, are there other ways and other forums through which progress on these matters might be achieved? Some countries have initiated informal expert-level discussions on an FMCT to discuss issues such as definitions and verification. How does China view these discussions, and what role does China play in them?

Wang: The CD is a good body. While it is true that it has not concluded any new treaties since 1998, its achievements or failures should nevertheless be viewed from a historical perspective.

Certain countries are, to my knowledge, thinking of setting up a “new kitchen” so as to move FMCT negotiations out of the CD. If the purpose of such a move is to reach a negotiated FMCT, we should be clear, if not clearer, about what the objective of the prospective treaty is in the first place. What is the relevance of such a treaty reached outside the CD in the absence of the participation of key countries with the capability of producing fissile materials, and how, under such circumstances, do we achieve the objective of nonproliferation of nuclear materials?

Although it presumably is not difficult at all for the FMCT negotiations to be moved out of the CD, it is nevertheless difficult for any new or alternative mechanism to replace the role and have the same effect as the CD, a nonexclusive disarmament and nonproliferation body with members from all regions and groups, both developed and developing. It includes, in particular, the five NPT nuclear-weapon states and other countries with nuclear weapons or certain nuclear capabilities. This, I believe, merits our careful reflection.

As for the “informal expert-level discussions on an FMCT” you referred to, I think such discussions per se are useful, though they would be truly meaningful only if channeled into the CD process on the treaty with the participation of all relevant countries.

Beijing, for its part, would like to see “a good treaty” through “good negotiation” at the CD. By “good negotiation,” we mean open and transparent intergovernmental negotiation conducted on the basis of the rules of procedure of the CD and with the participation of all countries with the capability of producing fissile materials. By “a good treaty,” we mean an FMCT that brings on board all relevant countries.

ACT: China repeatedly has expressed its support for an FMCT as an important nonproliferation instrument. China also is widely believed to have halted fissile material production for weapons, yet it is the only country among the five NPT nuclear-weapon states that has not formally declared a halt to fissile material production for weapons. Can you clarify whether China is producing fissile material for weapons purposes? If not, under what circumstances would China consider joining France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States in declaring that it has halted such production?

Wang: You’re right to look at this issue in the context of Beijing’s support for an FMCT as an important nonproliferation instrument. Beijing, for its part, has many misgivings about the notion of a “moratorium on fissile material production for weapons.” The rationales behind this are, firstly, that it will very much undercut international efforts to activate the FMCT negotiation process at the CD, and secondly, that it is neither legally binding nor verifiable. Moreover, it is not clear which fissile material is supposed to be subject to the moratorium. So, I do think that an FMCT at the CD is what international efforts should be focused on.


Wang Qun is Chinese ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary for disarmament affairs and permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), a position he has held since 2007. He was president of the CD from March 21 to May 29, 2011. He agreed to answer written questions from Arms Control Today on the CD’s current stalemate, which is preventing progress on the negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) and on other disarmament issues.

Common Ground on the BWC: An Interview With U.S. Special Representative Laura Kennedy

Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Jonathan B. Tucker[1]

Laura Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, was named last December to serve also as U.S. special representative on issues relating to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). In that position, her principal focus is the treaty’s review conference later this year. Her previous diplomatic postings include a broad range of arms control assignments.

Arms Control Today spoke with Kennedy by telephone May 12. She described the U.S. approach to the BWC and the upcoming review conference, which is scheduled to take place December 5-22. The interview covered many of the topics that are expected to be central to the review conference, including verification, peaceful cooperation, and the BWC’s intersessional process.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity and length.

ACT: Could you bring us up to date on where things stand after the April BWC preparatory committee meeting and tell us what the results of that meeting indicate about the outlook for the December review conference?

Kennedy: I’d be delighted. We finished the PrepCom on April 14. It went extremely well—so well, in fact, that we finished a day early, which in my experience happens very, very rarely. Now this was a procedural meeting, but on the other hand, I’ve certainly been at procedural meetings that were pretty unproductive and nasty, and this went extremely well. It was efficient. As I mentioned, we even finished early, so that is a very good sign. We were also very impressed with the president-designate of the review conference, a colleague of mine incidentally here [in Geneva], Ambassador [Paul] van den IJssel, who was, as one would expect from a chairman, impartial, and, we are delighted to see, effective. It was a very constructive tone, I thought, throughout the discussions.

That is not to say that there were not differences of view; there certainly were and are. But I found that the delegations there were focused on finding solutions and avoiding polemical speeches. That’s a good thing. So I think that judging by this and other signs, the outlook for the review conference is a positive one. We, and I mean the U.S. here, certainly see it as a real opportunity to strengthen implementation of the BWC, reinforce its importance and relevance for this next century. Although people properly look at areas of disagreement, there’s also a huge amount of common ground in the international community.

ACT: There has been quite a lot of discussion about what threats the BWC should be trying to address. You and other U.S. officials have been quite clear in saying that the focus should include subnational threats as well as national programs and that it should also cover areas, such as the surveillance of natural epidemic diseases, that go beyond “security” as it’s normally defined. Can you describe the relative importance of these threats and how the BWC can help to address them? Do other countries generally subscribe to the U.S. approach?

Kennedy: I think the issues that you’ve identified indeed are ones that were identified by my boss, Undersecretary [of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen] Tauscher, who came out to Geneva for the annual meeting [of states-parties] in [December] 2009 when she unveiled the U.S. national strategy. She made just those points, that you need to work on this complex of issues.

First of all, we believe that you need to increase confidence that countries are complying with their obligations and effectively implementing the convention. As you know, the U.S. government does not think that a verification protocol would achieve that objective. That, however, doesn’t mean we think that the objective is not important or that there’s nothing to be done. Very much to the contrary.

Second, the threat of bioterrorism—we think it’s real. We think it’s important to deal with this problem in order to achieve the aim of the BWC: a world free from the threat of biological weapons. We would be the first to say that this is a complex problem, that the knowledge and materials that could be misused are widely and, of course, appropriately used for important scientific and health purposes. Therefore, we think that you have to take a very nuanced approach, including not only security measures, but outreach to industry, to academia and individual scientists, for example.

That brings me to a third area that’s sometimes called health security, which we believe requires sustained attention because the range of possible threats is so broad, and the potential consequences so dire, the international community needs to be prepared to recognize a disease outbreak and respond to it quickly and effectively, whether or not it’s recognized as a deliberate attack. So we’ve got to work together to strengthen disease surveillance and detection capabilities around the world, as well as national and international preparedness, coordination, and response capabilities.

You asked if some of these views were widely shared. I would say that’s one of the good-news stories about the BWC, in that the capabilities that I just described are also needed for many other reasons beyond the security area: natural disease outbreaks or disease caused by accident[al releases of pathogens from research laboratories]. Certainly, all nations have a shared concern for disease and the need to prevent and deal with it. There’s increasingly a shared recognition that when you enhance capabilities to deal with, say, a bioweapons threat, you’re also getting benefits across the board in the health area. As we all know, germs know no borders, so this is something that genuinely unites the international community.

ACT: Can we expect to see some effort on [global health security] at the review conference, some language in the final document reflecting that?

Kennedy: That’s certainly our aim.

ACT: One of the tasks for the review conference is to renew the mandate for the Implementation Support Unit [ISU], the small Geneva-based staff for the BWC. How would you evaluate the ISU’s work so far?

Kennedy: I think I can speak for more than just our own view in the U.S., which is that we think the ISU has done an extremely impressive job over the last five years. I would bet with great confidence that there will be agreement to continue the ISU. I would say there’s also a lot of support for modestly expanding the ISU, although in these difficult budgetary times around the world, I think some governments might find even a tiny increase very difficult, and nobody is going to just write a check. Everyone will want to sort out priorities and come to a consensus on what should be the work plan, what sort of new mandate, what sort of tasks we would set for the next five years for the ISU. Then, presumably, we will make resource decisions based on that review. People aren’t going to say, “Let’s just expand.”

ACT: What is the U.S. position on whether the ISU should be made permanent?

Kennedy: Frankly, I’m not sure we have a set view on that. I think generally it’s been looked at in five-year increments. I think that’s a pretty sensible position myself, and I would suspect that most nations think that this every-five-years review actually makes sense. We certainly would be open to any proposals to make it permanent; but again, let me just go back to the previous point that resources, staffing, and so on should be tied to a consensus on what their tasks should be.

ACT: Another issue is the intersessional process and in what form it will be continued. Currently, the intersessional process is a forum for meeting and discussion between review conferences but not for decision-making. You have said that the process should have greater flexibility and authority. Could you give us some details on what you have in mind?

Kennedy: Sure. I think, as I hope some of my earlier comments made clear, that the intersessional process has been a huge success. When I talked about how the BWC has provided this forum to bring together various actors in the international community, I mean that the intersessional process has been a real winner in this regard. I think this is an issue that is absolutely ripe for a thorough discussion and new steps. It has raised awareness, we’ve exchanged experiences in this forum, and it’s certainly prompted lots of actions at the national level.

If, in the intersessional process, you come up with really useful stuff, like a set of best practices, or guidelines, procedures, in any number of areas, why wouldn’t you want to endorse them in that year, rather than waiting until the next review conference years down the road? Why not have the states-parties give themselves the freedom, the mandate, the opportunity to take decisions to do things that are useful and appropriate?

ACT: In 2001 the United States withdrew from talks on a BWC verification protocol, and the talks subsequently collapsed. You said this past December that a “verification regime is no more feasible than it was in 2001, and perhaps even less so, given the evolution of technology and industry.” However, some countries, including close U.S. allies, do not share this view. Is the United States pursuing some compromise or alternative approach that could bridge the differences on this issue?

Kennedy: You mentioned the previous efforts to negotiate a verification protocol, and you’re certainly right that we abandoned that effort earlier. We went back and did a top-to-bottom review in the new administration and came to the same basic conclusion, that we did not think that a verification protocol was doable for the reasons I spoke to before. But that’s not to say that confidence in compliance is not vitally important to promote by enhanced transparency and compliance diplomacy. There are indeed things that we can do in this general area. There’s a lot of work, for example, going on with respect to possible changes in the confidence-building measures [CBMs].[2] Let me speak to that just briefly.

I think there are three different strands to that discussion. First of all, how do you expand participation? Last year, we had a record number of countries that submitted their CBMs, which are politically binding although not legally binding. But despite the fact that we hit a new high, it’s still less than half the membership.[3]

Two, how do you make the questions more precise so that when you collect all this data, it’s consistent and more usable? Number three, are we asking the right questions, are there new types of information we need to be seeking? Conversely, some of the information we’ve been collecting may be no longer relevant because, for example, it may be available from other sources. These are important questions, and I think there’s a lot of willingness to tackle them. We might not be able to come to agreement at the review conference itself, but at a minimum, I would think we would be able to establish a follow-on process to address these issues.

Another aspect of what we can do to answer these concerns is to find the middle ground, given the differences of view on a verification protocol. Initiatives for increased transparency are important. I think they could meaningfully contribute to additional confidence among the states-parties. We’re looking at ways we can promote and demonstrate transparency, particularly with regard to biological defense programs. We’re looking at various aspects of this general area to increase transparency and confidence in BWC compliance.

ACT: Another area of debate has been peaceful cooperation under Article X of the BWC. What is the likelihood of developing an approach that satisfies the United States and other members of the Australia Group[4] that are concerned about loosening restrictions on transfers of dual-use biotechnology equipment and materials, while also addressing the concerns of countries such as Cuba, Iran, and Pakistan that want to see a freer flow of trade among BWC member states to facilitate the peaceful uses of biotechnology?

Kennedy: Excellent question, [which addresses] a balance that is always struck in complex issues like this. But in general, let me say that I am indeed optimistic that there is a constructive way ahead on this issue. Let me just mention a couple of reasons.

I talked earlier about a cross-regional approach, a greater willingness to work on an international community basis. Instead of the haves versus the have-nots, which in many cases has typified the dialogue in the past, I find increasingly that what we generally refer to as the developed countries have embraced capacity-building assistance. It’s important for the recipient nations, and it’s important for the donor countries, for their respective national-security interests. We also find that, in the biosciences, the distinction between developing and developed countries is simply breaking down. There’s a lot of what we used to call Third World countries that are doing extremely sophisticated science. There’s lots of South-South cooperation. It’s not just relationships being redefined between donors and recipients, but also between partners and collaborators.

There’s a huge amount of cooperation going on in the life sciences, and just because it may not have been identified or have a “BWC Article X” sticker on it doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. We think that you can defuse the debate because we are as enthusiastic about Article X as, say, a recipient country. We want to stay away from ideological debates because that could be a recipe for deadlock, and I think people recognize that.

There’s been talk about an Article X mechanism. We’re open to that. We just need to work out what would be meant by that, [and if it is] something everybody can live with.

You mentioned the Australia Group; countries have their own national [export control] regimes or multilateral regimes like the Australia Group. Those are important nonproliferation export control regimes, which we believe in. We think they are absolutely compatible with good assistance programs, which are in our interests as much as the recipient countries’.

ACT: So you’re getting positive reactions from countries that, in the past, have expressed concerns about this area, and you anticipate that [the issue of peaceful cooperation] will be resolved amicably and won’t hold up consensus at the meeting?

Kennedy: I don’t want to be too Pollyannaish. I don’t mean to say that there are not real differences of opinion, but I think we can find common ground; we can deal with these issues. At this point, I’m not seeing anything that is a deal-breaker. I think there’s more of an interest in finding that common ground and working around areas that divide us.

ACT: Could we circle back to one compliance and transparency question? What further measures is the United States prepared to take to reassure other countries that the U.S. biodefense program complies strictly with the BWC’s prohibitions on offensive development?

Kennedy: I want to underline for your readers the fact that the U.S. took the lead in terms of making its annual submission of confidence-building measure data public. Last year, we took this initiative; and for the second year, we did so again. That is one enhanced confidence-building measure, and we’re seeing other countries do that as well.

In terms of transparency, visits and exchanges could be part of the package of transparency measures we’re looking at. I won’t go any further now except to say that these are some of the transparency initiatives we’re looking at on a national basis.

ACT: What are the United States and other countries doing to increase the membership of the BWC and ultimately bring about universal adherence? What are the additional steps to achieve universality that should be adopted at the review conference?

Kennedy: That’s a vitally important issue. We only have 164 countries that have joined the BWC. The good news is that this represents the majority of the international community. The bad news is that there is still a good chunk of countries that haven’t joined. In most cases, it’s not that there is an ideological or political objection to the BWC—by no means. It appears to me to be basically a question of competing priorities. There are countries that say, “Well, we’ve never had biological weapons, we never plan to have biological weapons, [and] we’ve never felt threatened by biological weapons. So joining the BWC may be the right thing to do, but it’s just not a priority.” Some countries have signed and simply have not gotten around to ratifying.

We all know that legislatures get busy, legislative calendars get filled up. But we think it’s vitally important to persuade those countries that haven’t signed to accede to the BWC; if they’ve already signed, to do the final work on getting it ratified. We want them to be on the right side of history, to make sure that there are no BWC loopholes or safe havens anywhere.

There are ways to assist countries to join and also to help them in fulfilling the provisions of the convention, which we are doing and will do. We just had a meeting here in Geneva, together with the [BWC review conference] president, with a number of countries that have not yet joined the convention. We want partners in this endeavor around the globe.

We’re delighted that, in different regions, various countries have taken the lead [on achieving universal adherence to the BWC]. I think of Kenya in Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia in Southeast Asia, just as a few examples. The EU is very active. We are eager to partner with regional partners. We will use every tool at our disposal to focus on the importance of this issue. For example, when President Obama was just in Brazil, the communiqué that was signed with the Brazilian president included a specific reference to the BWC review conference. The G-8 put out a very solid statement on the BWC this year.

I think it’s really important to tailor it to the specific country. What are your issues? How can we help? Raise it in capitals, in Washington, in the host country capital, in Geneva, in New York. Partner with as many other countries as possible. Do it on a regional basis; if there’s a regional group, ask them to put it on their agenda. There are lots of different things that we can do, and we’re doing them.

ACT: Just to wrap this all up, given all the difficult issues we’ve been discussing, what’s a reasonable best-case scenario for the outcome of the conference? What would you look for it to produce?

Kennedy: I would like to see an increase in universality, not just in terms of the number of countries joining the BWC, but new ways to enhance, make easier, and make more relevant participation in the regime for those that are already in—maybe reach agreement on some sort of mechanism or way, for example, to better incorporate science and technology [into the review process]. What are ways to stay ahead of that scientific curve? Agree on a solid review on CBMs: what are ways we can make them more accessible and update them? On the ISU, conduct a thorough review of their work, what else they should do, and then make sure that they are appropriately resourced for the agreed mandate. Openness and transparency: as I mentioned before, we want to promote this. If necessary, we’re prepared to lead unilaterally, but we would hope that this would spark a trend toward greater national transparency across the board. The intersessional process: continue to enhance that vital forum, bring in more industry and academia. Reinforce the synergy among a broad community of diplomats, scientists, law enforcement officers, public health officials. That is vitally important.

ACT: Thank you very much. We really appreciate your taking the time and going into such detail on the answers.

Kennedy: Thank you again.


1. Jonathan B. Tucker is a member of the board of directors of the Arms Control Association.

2. Pursuant to understandings reached at the BWC review conferences in 1986 and 1991, BWC member states are politically bound to submit annual confidence-building measure data declarations covering a variety of topics relevant to compliance with the convention, including unusual outbreaks of infectious disease, maximum-containment laboratories, facilities that produce human vaccines, and national biodefense programs, facilities, and activities.

3. In 2010, 72 of the 163 BWC states-parties submitted confidence-building measure data declarations.

4. The Australia Group is an informal multinational forum of 40 countries plus the European Commission. In an effort to impede proliferation, the group’s members harmonize their national export controls on materials and equipment relevant to the production of chemical and biological weapons.


Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Jonathan B. Tucker

Pursuing the Prague Agenda: An Interview With White House Coordinator Gary Samore



Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Gary Samore is White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, he was vice president for studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. During the Clinton administration, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for nonproliferation and export controls.

Arms Control Today spoke with Samore in his office April 7. Among the topics covered in the interview were the current impasse in talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the modernization and expansion of nuclear weapons programs in Asia, and the U.S. approach to talks with Russia on missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: It has now been two years since President Barack Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech, in which he outlined his vision for addressing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. A central part of that vision was the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [New START] with Russia, which entered into force earlier this year.

But New START still leaves both sides with very substantial numbers of nuclear weapons. The president has declared his intention to seek further bilateral nuclear reductions involving deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical warheads, and national security adviser Tom Donilon recently said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round.”

What factors will help determine how much further each side is prepared to trim its remaining arsenals? What types of verification, transparency, and confidence-building measures would help provide the basis for further reductions?

Samore: Well, let me speak on the U.S. side because I can’t really talk about how the Russians make their decisions—but I can speculate. As far as we’re concerned, we’ll need to do a strategic review of what our force requirements are and then, based on that, the president will have options available for additional reductions. That review is ongoing. It’s likely to take quite a bit of time because we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations. Reductions below the level that we have now are going to require some more fundamental questions about force structure.

Once we have that review in place, then we’ll be able to actually start a real negotiation with the Russians in terms of providing them with a position. On the verification and the transparency piece, we believe that the next treaty or the next agreement should include nondeployed systems, which have never been monitored or limited under arms control agreements. We believe that tactical nuclear weapons should be included in the overall ceiling. One approach to take, which is our inclination at this point, is to have a single ceiling that would include both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic [weapons]. And then, both sides, given the different force structures we have, would have some freedom to mix under that total ceiling. But in order to make that kind of an approach work, you would have to have inspections that we’ve never had before, and that would include inspections of nuclear weapons storage facilities.

I think you would need to have some kind of a mechanism to account for nuclear weapons that are destroyed because we have a huge backlog of nuclear weapons that are waiting to be destroyed, and the Russians will want to know how to account for those because, in theory, they could be reused. So, to me, the next treaty or agreement is going to require a very different set of verification and transparency measures, and up to now, both sides have been reluctant to agree. Frankly, the Russians are much more cautious than we are when it comes to verification, so we’re going to have to overcome serious hurdles if we’re going to get down into an agreement that gets at the nondeployed forces.

ACT: Is it accurate to say the rationale for the majority of U.S. nuclear forces is Russia’s nuclear force?

Samore: If you look at the NPR [2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report”], you’ll see the rationale for our nuclear force structure.

ACT: Does the administration foresee further U.S. nuclear reductions if Russia’s deployed nuclear force shrinks below the 1,550-warhead level allowed by New START?

Samore: As the NPR says, at this point it makes sense for there to be some parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, so we don’t rule out taking steps on our own. In the absence of a formal agreement or treaty, there may be parallel steps that both sides could take or even unilateral steps that the U.S. could take. But those are not—decisions haven’t been made yet. Right now we have the New START treaty to implement, which gives us seven years to [come] down to the levels that are identified there. Whether we do things in addition to that or that would supersede that, that would depend very much on the discussions that we have with the Russians.

ACT: During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama said, “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice...increases the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation” and pledged to “address this dangerous situation.”

The NPR report calls for the evaluation of options that could increase the president’s decision-making time regarding the use of nuclear weapons in times of crisis. News reports suggest new presidential guidance will be formulated that may address this matter.

What specific steps are under consideration that could reduce the potential risks of accident or miscalculation due to so-called prompt launch posture?

Samore: You’ll notice that in Tom Donilon’s [March 29] speech [at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace], when he talks about the strategic review, he mentions that alert postures will be one of the factors that will be addressed in that review. We’re expecting that options will be presented to the president that will look at the implications of changing the alert status and postures and what impact that would have on force size and structure.

ACT: Russian leaders continue to express concern about the more advanced U.S. missile interceptors planned for the later phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Could you update us on the status of the ongoing U.S.-Russian talks on missile defense cooperation and describe the types of missile defense cooperation that these discussions might produce? For example, would it focus on joint early-warning data sharing, an agreement not to target defensive systems against the other side’s strategic offensive systems, or something else?

Samore: We’ve had very senior-level discussions recently with the Russians on missile defense cooperation including Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates’ discussions when he was in Moscow. President Obama and [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev have discussed the issue in their regular phone conversations. We’re certainly engaging with the Russians at a very senior level to try to find ways to cooperate on missile defense in a way that provides assurance to them, because our missile defense system really isn’t intended to threaten their nuclear deterrent, as well as improving our capacity and their capacity to defend against emerging threats from countries like Iran.

Certainly one of the areas we’re looking at is sharing data in terms of early warning. Again that’s something that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech as an area where we think it would actually serve both sides if we could work together and where the Russians have something to bring to the table because they have radar capacity that would be useful for us in terms of defense of Europe and the United States. So that’s certainly one aspect of cooperation that we’re discussing.

ACT: When do you hope to see some kind of agreement concluded?

Samore: I would be rash to predict when an agreement will be concluded. But it’s something that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have identified as the top strategic priority right now, because we think that’s an area where there’s room for progress.

ACT: The administration has expressed interest in engaging Russia in talks on tactical nuclear weapons. National security adviser Donilon recently has suggested that “increas[ing] transparency on a reciprocal basis concerning the numbers, locations, and types of nonstrategic forces in Europe” could be a useful starting point. Could you give us more details about what you have in mind?

Samore: I think we have to recognize that there’s a disparity between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons in terms of numbers and in terms of mission. From the Russian standpoint, they have many more tactical nuclear weapons, and they claim they believe they need them to counter NATO’s conventional superiority. So one way to begin to get into a process that will lead to reductions on a reciprocal basis is to have a better understanding of both sides’ numbers, doctrine, storage facilities, and so forth, and that’s something we would be prepared to exchange with the Russians on a confidential basis. Whether the Russians are willing to go down that road, I can’t tell you; but what we have in mind is at least starting with an exchange of information as a way to try to get a better understanding of each side’s position and hopefully that would lead—as I said, we think tactical nuclear weapons could be included in the next overall agreement. But another approach would be to take parallel actions in advance of there being a new treaty or agreement, something else that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech.

ACT: Regarding the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear stockpile in Europe, which is part of the ongoing NATO deterrence review, are the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe necessary for the defense of the alliance?

Samore: The primary mission or the primary value of tactical nuclear weapons is symbolic and political because whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.

ACT: Under what circumstances might NATO consider their consolidation or withdrawal?

Samore: What Tom Donilon talked about in his speech is [steps taken] on a reciprocal basis with Russian actions. That is a principle that all the NATO allies have agreed on. If Russia took reciprocal actions, we would be prepared to take actions. But there’s no agreement in NATO to take unilateral actions as concerns U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

ACT: A general question relating to all of these issues on the U.S.-Russian agenda: How would you characterize the nature of the conversations at this point? These are taking place at the cabinet level, and these are discussions. At what point do you expect that there might be more formal work occurring on any one of these or all of these issues?

Samore: If you’re talking about a formal arms control negotiation, neither side is ready to do that. We’re not prepared to do that yet because we haven’t completed our internal reviews, so we wouldn’t know what position to take. The Russians have indicated publicly that they’re not prepared to consider additional reductions until their concerns about missile defense and weapons in space and a number of other things have been addressed. At this point, I don’t anticipate we would begin formal arms control negotiations anytime soon. That’s why we’re emphasizing the need to have discussions about things like verification, transparency, and so forth; that’s a precursor to having a formal arms control negotiation.

ACT: In the Prague speech, the president pledged to pursue U.S. ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]. Mr. Donilon recently reaffirmed that the administration will engage with senators on that treaty.

How does the CTBT contribute to U.S. nonproliferation efforts, and do you expect ratification would lead the handful of other states that have not yet done so to reconsider the treaty?

Samore: I think the best argument we can make for the CTBT is that it serves U.S. national security interests by giving us one tool to help constrain the nuclear buildup in Asia. I do believe that if the U.S. ratified the CTBT, it’s likely that China, India, and Pakistan would all ratify the CTBT and that would create a legal and political barrier to a resumption of nuclear testing. I think the risk of a resumption of nuclear testing is greatest in Asia. Obviously, North Korea could test at any time, but among Pakistan, India, and China, those are the countries that are building up their forces, modernizing their forces, and where testing might make sense in terms of those programs. So, to the extent that we can put in place the CTBT and to the extent that that will constrain options in Asia, it will help to tamp down the one part of the world where there is a nuclear buildup taking place.

ACT: On Iran, the United States, particularly with its P5+1 partners,[1] was pursuing a dual-track strategy. We saw from the [January 21-22] meeting in Istanbul, there were no real gains, no progress made on outstanding issues. U.S. officials have said since then that the door is still open but that they’re also looking at tightening the implementation of existing sanctions. How would you characterize the P5+1 diplomatic strategy and options going forward?

Samore: You described it very well. The P5+1 and [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Lady [Catherine] Ashton have said that the door is open to a resumption [of talks]. I’ve seen no indication that the Iranians are interested and no indication that they’re prepared to come to the table with any serious intent, so we’re very much focusing on the pressure track of the dual-track strategy. We’ve continued to take actions, and you will see in coming weeks and months that, with our allies, we’ll continue to try to increase pressure on Iran in order to persuade its government that the best way to avoid those pressures is to come to the bargaining table and be serious about trying to come up with a diplomatic solution. But at this particular moment, there’s no active diplomacy.

ACT: As you are well aware, Iran has asserted that progress with the P5+1 depends on other states recognizing what it claims is its right to enrich uranium.

Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran could possibly enrich uranium at some point in the future under very strict conditions and “having responded to the international community’s concerns and irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.” Can you give us some sense of what those strict conditions might be and how the United States intends to ensure that Iran takes those necessary steps?

Samore: I think the key to Iran resuming its full nuclear—peaceful nuclear—activities is to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions that require them to suspend all enrichment- and [spent fuel] reprocessing-related activities and to fully cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to address concerns about their past and present nuclear activities, especially in the area of weaponization. So, the first step, if Iran wants to restore confidence and if Iran wants to lift sanctions, is to comply with the Security Council resolutions. What Secretary Clinton said has made explicit what has always been implicit in our policy, going back to the Bush administration, that if Iran were to satisfy the UN Security Council that its nuclear intentions were peaceful, then we would have no objection to Iran engaging in the full suite of peaceful nuclear activities. Up to this point, Iran has not been able to persuade anybody, frankly, that its nuclear intentions are peaceful. That’s why the Security Council continues to demand full suspension as the initial step they can take.

ACT: Turning to North Korea, recently Mr. Donilon said that, in order for the six-party talks [involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States] to resume, “North Korea first needs to engage with the South and address issues surrounding its military provocation and then take significant and irreversible steps toward the goal of denuclearization. Those steps must include monitored suspension of their newly declared uranium-enrichment program.”

What steps can the United States and its partners in the region take to achieve these objectives, and what risk is there, in the meantime, that North Korea might continue to build on its nuclear and missile capabilities?

Samore: Very much like the case of Iran, we have applied pressures to North Korea, both in the form of UN Security Council resolutions and in actions we and our allies, especially South Korea and Japan, have taken to try to persuade North Korea to take the steps we consider necessary to resume a diplomatic process. I think we’ve begun to see the North Koreans, at least right now, looking for a way to resume the six-party talks. We’ll continue to do that, and as Tom Donilon said, for us it’s very important that we not go back to the old way of doing business where the North Koreans get benefits in return for just talking. What we want to see are concrete actions. As Tom said, getting the North Koreans to suspend their enrichment program is an important step.

ACT: On the fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], U.S. officials, including yourself, Clinton, and Donilon, have said that “our patience is not infinite” and that if the stalemate continues in the CD [Conference on Disarmament], the United States would seek other options. What is the United States doing now to break the deadlock in the CD? In the absence of agreement on a work program, what “other options” are you considering to halt the further production of nuclear bomb material?

Samore: We’re continuing in the CD as we have since President Obama’s Prague speech to argue that we’re prepared to begin negotiations on a verifiable FMCT. In fact, all countries at the CD agreed to such a work plan. Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to block a consensus on carrying out that work plan, and at this point, it appears unlikely to me that the CD will be able to come up with a compromise to begin FMCT negotiations. We’re going to start consulting. We will start consulting and have started to consult with allies and partners on whether there’s an alternative venue for the Conference on Disarmament. There are a couple of different ideas out there in play and we’re open-minded. The important thing for us is to get the negotiation started. So, we’re talking to the key countries, including countries that would be directly affected by an FMCT, as well as the technology holders.

It seems to me that is a group that we would want as much as possible to be included in such a process. Recognizing that the Pakistanis are probably not going to be willing to participate, but nonetheless if the CD is not going to be able to get started in terms of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty, it’s important that we find some other way to do that, even if it means bypassing the CD, because these negotiations are not going to be quick and easy. There are a lot of pretty fundamental disagreements or differences of point of view, for example, whether existing stocks should be included and how the verification would be carried out. This is going to be a very lengthy, difficult, complicated negotiation, and the longer we wait to get started, the longer it will be before a treaty can actually be achieved.

ACT: You say such consultations should involve “technology holders.” By “technology holders,” do you mean those countries that have enrichment and reprocessing technology?

Samore: Yes. It would be good to include the Japanese, the Germans, Brazil, South Africa—countries that have developed enrichment and reprocessing for peaceful purposes. It seems to me they have something to bring to the negotiations, and to the extent that any verification regime would have some elements that would be in addition to the existing IAEA safeguards, it would directly affect countries that have [enrichment and reprocessing] facilities that are already under safeguards.

ACT: In the meantime, Pakistan and India are the two countries, North Korea aside, that are believed to be continuing fissile material production for weapons. What steps can the United States and the international community pursue prior to a negotiation on an FMCT to address the risks posed by the continued accumulation of fissile material in South Asia?

Samore: I think it’s very unlikely that either India or Pakistan is prepared at this moment to stop its nuclear buildup. Both countries, for their own reasons, just like China for its own reasons, seem intent on further developing their capabilities. In the near term, I don’t think there is any sort of [regional] arms control arrangement, whether it’s by one of those countries or by two or three of them, that could deal with this buildup. That’s why we think the FMCT and the CTBT provide international instruments for trying to get at that concern. Certainly in the case of South Asia, it’s very important, I think, to minimize as much as possible incidents that could lead to military tension and conflict between India and Pakistan because, in my view, the risk of a conflict escalating to a nuclear war is probably higher in South Asia than in anywhere else in the world. We’ve obviously worked very hard to encourage India and Pakistan to resume their composite dialogue, worked very hard to try to convince the Pakistani government to take action against groups in their country that might be carrying out terrorist actions against India. So to me, the focus in the near term has to be on confidence building to reduce the risk of war. In the long term, to the extent that we can get these international instruments in place, like the CTBT and the FMCT, that’s a way to constrain the nuclear buildup.

ACT: There have been reports in recent months suggesting that Pakistan’s fissile material production rate has been accelerating. Is this the case? Has India also increased its rate of fissile material production since the approval [by the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group of a policy of resuming nuclear exports to India] in 2008?

Samore: I probably can’t talk to that specifically. All I can do is repeat that there is a nuclear buildup under way in Asia: India, Pakistan, and China all are modernizing and expanding their nuclear forces. We need to figure out a way to, A, manage and, B, try to constrain that as much as we can. The best approach we’ve been able to come up with is one that emphasizes these multilateral international arms control instruments because I don’t see any purely regional approach that will be effective, and I don’t see any approach where any of those three countries would, on their own, decide to stop.

ACT: In an October 2010 presentation, you cited Pakistan as the issue that keeps you up at night. With regard to nuclear proliferation and material security, do you still have those concerns?

Samore: The Pakistani government takes the nuclear security threat very seriously, and they’ve put a lot of resources into trying to make sure that their nuclear facilities and materials and weapons are well secured. There’s no lack of recognition that this is a very important issue, and there’s no lack of incentive on the part of the Pakistani government to maintain control. What I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity—and that’s obviously taking place as we look at the sectarian violence and tensions between the government and the military and so forth—I worry that, in that broader context, even the best nuclear security measures might break down. You’re dealing with a country that is under tremendous stress internally and externally, and that’s what makes me worry. They have good programs in place; the question is whether those good programs work in the context where these broader tensions and conflicts are present.

ACT: On the nuclear security summit, we’re about a year away from the second summit to be held in Seoul. What are the United States and South Korea hoping to accomplish at the summit next year? What are the biggest challenges that have to be addressed in order to meet the four-year goal that has been set out?

Samore: I think we’re on track to have a very successful summit. We’ve already been able to secure, remove, [and] eliminate very large quantities of fissile material, and we’ve still got a year to go. So, I think we’ll have an additional track record of success.

We’ve also made a very concerted effort to set up the centers of excellence and training, which is very effective because nuclear security is more than just the material. It also requires, and it is in many ways more important, that the people responsible for securing the material do their job properly. Since the [2010] Washington summit, we’ve signed agreements with a number of countries to either establish or work together in these nuclear security centers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, and so forth. I think there may be some additional ones that would be announced in Seoul.

Lastly, and this is the one area where I think we have the greatest challenge, how do we translate the work that the summit participants do into the broader international community? I think there is a very good working relationship among the 47 or so countries, and we’ve all agreed on a work plan and will be able to come to Seoul and show that we’ve made very significant progress to carry out the steps in the work plan. But we need a mechanism for including the 150 or so countries that are not actually at the summit, and that means finding a greater role for the UN. I think Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is very interested in being active in this area. I think it means using other international organizations, like the IAEA, and strengthening their nuclear security assistance program.

The summit will show that there has been substantial progress among the countries that participated in the Washington meeting in terms of carrying out the work plan. The challenge for us is to find some way to include those countries that are not actually physically present at the summit because, as a practical matter, we can’t include everybody, and that’s something we’re working on.

ACT: The part about the president’s four-year goal—can you address that? Where do things stand? What are the challenges in order to complete that particular goal of the president?

Samore: We, of course, still have a ways to go before we’ve reached our four-year mark. I think there will be cases where we don’t have access [to] or even knowledge of nuclear material, for example, nuclear material in North Korea. We don’t have a cooperative relationship with the North Koreans, so we won’t be able to say from our own knowledge that that nuclear material has been secured. I think it probably has been, but I have no way to make that judgment. In some cases, we can have direct access, work directly with countries on-site, either to secure, remove, or eliminate nuclear material. In other cases, we won’t have direct access. That’s why we’re trying to work through these indirect mechanisms, like centers of excellence, where we think we can help countries to establish a good security culture and training and equipment and so forth, and then strengthen the international elements, whether it’s the UN or the IAEA or the different conventions. At the end of the four-year period, I can’t tell you exactly where we’ll be, but the Seoul summit is sort of coming up on the halfway mark, and we’ve already been able to show very substantial progress.

ACT: At the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review conference last year, there was an agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction-free zone. What does the United States hope to achieve through the 2012 conference? Are you looking for states in the region to take certain interim steps that would contribute to the realization of such a zone? Given the nature of the nuclear debate in the region, to what extent will the meeting focus initially on chemical and biological weapons?

Samore: Our view is that it’s important that the meeting, if it takes place in 2012, focus on the broader range of nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile [issues]. When we agreed to organize this meeting at the NPT review conference, 2012 seemed like a pretty reasonable timeline for getting something organized. Obviously, since then there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.

What we would like to do is identify a number of host countries and then see if we could get some, if not consensus, at least strong support from among the countries in the region for a host. That would be an important first step in terms of making the conference more real. But given the disagreements in the region on these issues and given the turmoil and uncertainty in the region, this whole thing is going to be a very challenging enterprise.

ACT: The P5 states[2] plan to meet in Paris later this year to discuss nuclear transparency issues and possible ways to verify additional nuclear arms reductions. What do you hope to achieve at this meeting, and do you expect similar meetings to follow?

Samore: We hope there will be similar meetings. There isn’t any basis on which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states can engage in formal arms control negotiations. There’s no political basis on which you can have a five-way nuclear arms agreement because of the disparity between the U.S. and Russia on one hand and the U.K., France, and China on the other. In place of, or in advance of, there being any kind of formal multilateral arms control process, we’re trying at least to develop some areas of understanding on verification and transparency because if the U.S. and Russia continue to reduce [their nuclear arsenals] in the long term, it would create conditions where, in theory, you could have an arms control negotiation among the five, among states that possess nuclear weapons. If you were to have such a negotiation, there would have to be some kind of verification and transparency arrangement. So these discussions, I think, are useful in that sense, recognizing that the conditions for having formal arms control negotiations among the five just don’t exist.

ACT: Just remind us about the genesis of these meetings. There was an earlier meeting in London...

Samore: It was the British that started the idea, and we were very comfortable with that. Now the French have picked up [on it], and I would hope in the future, although this hasn’t been agreed, you would see similar meetings hosted by the other countries. But we have to recognize that the other countries are very wary of being brought into an arms control process at a time when, from their standpoint, the U.S. and Russia have 10 times more nuclear weapons than they do. I don’t think any country of the five is prepared to agree to any kind of a treaty or agreement that would lock them into a position of having less weapons.

ACT: Has a date been firmly set for the meeting?

Samore: I don’t believe so; you would have to ask the French. I’m not sure there has been complete agreement on there even being a meeting. I think that’s still under discussion. We’re very comfortable with it, and we would hope that all of the others would agree to it as well.

ACT: Is there anything we should have asked that we didn’t? Anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on in our questions up to this point?

Samore: The one thing I would say is that I really do think that President Obama’s approach to this range of issues is that there has to be an integrated approach, and the Prague speech was very deliberately designed so that there were four interlocking elements, and I think we’ve made very good progress on each of those. But to me, the challenge of Iran and North Korea continues to be an area that if we don’t get right, will unravel everything else we’re trying to do. I really do think that unless we’re able to check the programs in North Korea and Iran, there’s a very high likelihood that it will eventually lead to further proliferation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen right away, but if that happens, if we see additional nuclear powers emerge in East Asia and the Middle East, then that completely undermines everything else that we’re trying to do. So, I hope that people appreciate how important it is that we work together to convince Iran and North Korea to comply with their obligations. Otherwise, everything else that we’re doing in the other areas, I think, will probably come to naught.

ACT: That’s a wide-ranging and complex set of challenges. Thanks for giving us an overview on all of these things two years after the Prague speech.

Samore: Sure.


1. P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany.

2. The P5 also are the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the NPT.



Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Country Resources:

The Stockpile’s Steward: An Interview With NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino

Interviewed by Tom Z. Collina and Daniel Horner

Thomas D’Agostino was sworn in on August 30, 2007, as the Department of Energy’s undersecretary for nuclear security and as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency within the department. On September 3, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that D’Agostino would continue to hold those positions. From February 2006 to August 2007, he served as the NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs.

In December 2010, D’Agostino, Kazakhstani Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov, and their international partners were chosen in an online poll as the Arms Control Association’s Arms Control Persons of the Year for completing the job of securing material containing 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the BN-350 reactor in Kazakhstan.

Arms Control Today spoke with D’Agostino in his office on February 18. The interview covered NNSA weapons efforts such as plutonium pit production and warhead life extension programs, including experiments that use nuclear weapons materials without generating a nuclear explosion. On nonproliferation issues, Arms Control Today asked about the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which aims to reduce and secure vulnerable nuclear materials at civilian sites around the world, and the disposition of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You have just submitted your fiscal year 2012 budget to Congress, and we would like to ask you some questions that go to the NNSA’s role in supporting U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, reducing nuclear arsenals, and maintaining the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Let’s start with the NNSA’s role in U.S. nuclear weapons policy. First, on the test ban treaty:

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] reaffirmed that “the United States will not conduct nuclear testing and will pursue ratification” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion for almost 19 years.

Last November, the administration outlined its plan to increase funding for NNSA weapons activities, totaling more than $85 billion over the next 10 years. The directors of the three nuclear weapons laboratories wrote Dec. 1 that the proposed budgets provide “adequate support to sustain the safety, security, reliability and effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent.”

In your opinion, is there any technical reason that the United States should not ratify the test ban treaty and forgo testing for the foreseeable future?

D’Agostino: No. In my opinion, we have a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. Every year, we go through a very detailed annual assessment process where we evaluate the condition of the stockpile. We get independent input from our laboratory directors that comes through a variety of processes both within the Department of Energy and NNSA and at the Defense Department. Both of those come through independently at the top. It’s very consistent on the policy message that you described: There’s no need to conduct underground testing.

There is continued work that has to be done, and that’s what is great about the budgets that have been submitted by the president in the past two years. They represent a very consistent view that we need to increase surveillance work because if we’re going to maintain the deterrent and get into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, we actually have to have the data in order to ensure that we understand the condition of the stockpile as it currently exists and as we expect it will progress out into the future. Because with that [surveillance] data, we use our people and put it into our machines to understand and simulate and do subcritical experiments [which utilize high explosives and fissile materials, including plutonium, but do not generate a nuclear yield] and the like in order to ensure that we can continue to maintain the stockpile without testing.

So, I feel very strongly that we have the right plan in place. The president has submitted this plan. He’s been true to his word with respect to the 1251 report—the report that we submitted last year to Congress describing what kind of program and plan needs to happen.

[The report] shows increased investments across a variety of fronts, increased investments in work on modernization and work on the stockpile itself to make sure we extend the life of the existing stockpile. It shows increased investments in scientific work that has to happen—I mentioned subcritical experiments. It shows increased investments in surveillance activities to gather data.

Importantly, it shows investments—and this applies more broadly, not just to the warheads themselves, but in the facilities—that the nation needs in order to do nuclear security work generally. This is nuclear security work on the warheads, nuclear security work on nonproliferation, nuclear security work on nuclear counterterrorism and nuclear forensics and intelligence analysis.

All of those [areas] are pieces that we know we need in order to have a safe world out into the future. It’s a very nice wrap, frankly, between the warheads and nonproliferation activities and people. Those things come together in a very tight way with this program and budget.

ACT: The NPR pledged that “the United States will not develop new nuclear warheads” and that, regarding any decision to proceed to engineering development for warhead life extension programs [LEPs], “the Administration will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. Replacement of nuclear components would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.”

Does the NNSA have any plans to “replace” warheads or parts in the future, that is, introduce warhead designs that are not currently in the stockpile, but are based on tested designs?

D’Agostino: The United States has a plan to extend the life of the existing stockpile. As you mentioned, the Nuclear Posture Review very clearly directs our laboratory directors to study the full range of options to make sure that we get the benefit of their technical knowledge and capability. As I think you mentioned earlier, the laboratory directors have endorsed this as an acceptable approach to move forward with taking care of the stockpile out into the future.

So, to get right to your question, we’re in the very early study phases for the two life extension systems where your question might be appropriate. One is the B61 life extension program, and the second one is the W78 life extension activities. Both of these, particularly the W78 activity, have barely just gotten off the ground.

With the B61 [program], we are in the early phases, with the study examining that full range of options well under way. I don’t have the analysis yet because we’re in what we call the “phase 1-phase 2” area of the work on the B61 life extension. When that data comes back to us, we’ll look at all of the options that are being proposed, and then we will decide whether option A, option B, or option C is the best track. If it’s option C, we’ll need to go back up. We’re not at that stage on these life extensions yet.

ACT: Okay. Do you see at this point any potential missions that could not be achieved with refurbishment or reuse?

D’Agostino: At this point, right now, I don’t have the data, so I can’t answer that question directly. The mission space is a responsibility of the Defense Department, but the president has made clear that what we’re doing right now is not adding new missions to the warheads. We’re taking care, extending the life, of the warheads that we have right now. So, the analysis is currently under way on whether replacement is the way to go, or refurbishment, or reuse.

It’s very clear, though, that the president’s direction and our direction to our laboratories is to study, make sure they have examined that full range of options. We want to give them, frankly, the benefit of doing that because we want the nation to have the safest, most secure stockpile technically possible. The decisions will get made to balance, do trade-offs. Trade-offs in cost, trade-offs in risk, trade-offs in political [terms], maybe some atmospherics that may be happening there. We’re not there yet; we’re far from that point on making those decisions.

ACT: Would future warheads with “intrinsic surety” require “replacement,” or are there other operational measures that can provide sufficient protection at lower cost? If you were to design warheads with intrinsic security, can you do that with refurbishment or reuse, or would you have to move to a replacement design?

D’Agostino: The answer is, “It depends,” frankly.

It depends on the technical details. Now we’re delving into the heart of work on the primary, and the answer will be, “It depends.” It’s not clear that you would have to use a particular approach. What’s clear is that we’re going to examine all of our approaches, because we do want to extract that benefit and that knowledge and then allow policy and programmatic decisions to get made after that.

ACT: The NNSA’s [fiscal year] 2012 budget requests [funds] to study “scaled experiments” for “improving predictive capability of performance calculations for nuclear weapon primaries.” Can you describe these experiments and explain what they are for?

D’Agostino: Certainly. Scaled experiments basically are a type of subcritical experiment. Scaled experiments involve plutonium, but like subcriticals, they’re subcritical, they’re not nuclear tests.

Subcritical experiments are done all the time in order to gather the data that we need to study how the plutonium ages and make sure that we understand the dynamic [properties of the material], how the material moves under extreme pressures and temperatures. It’s an additional set of inputs. Because the president has a commitment to maintain the stockpile without underground testing and pursue the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, our view as a technical organization is to make sure we examine all the technical approaches to get data so we can take care of the stockpile and fulfill that mandate.

An element of the resources we’re talking about here has to do with making sure and understanding, “Can a more robust set of activities in scaled experiments provide data that allows us in effect to ensure that we don’t have to conduct an underground test?” We don’t know the answer to that question. That’s why the JASONs [group of senior science and defense consultants] are looking at it. That’s why we’re examining it in depth within the administration. That’s why we’ve got some money set aside to go answer that question.

Before we decide to pursue a path of additional scaled experiments, we want to make sure we understand the benefit that it provides versus the costs, the financial costs, associated with doing that. It’s going to take us a few years to get to that point because this is the heart of the matter, frankly. The data from the primaries is the key point in being able to take care of the stockpile.

ACT: Would a new facility be necessary? And if so, how much might it cost?

D’Agostino: We don’t know if a new facility is necessary. We don’t know if a new scaled-experiments program is necessary, and therefore we don’t know what it would cost.

ACT: Okay, and just a clarifying question: scaled experiments have or have not been done up to this point?

D’Agostino: Scaled experiments are done by, have been done by states that have stockpiles of warheads.

ACT: But not in the United States?

D’Agostino: In the United States, we don’t have a very—no, we haven’t done scaled experiments in a long time.

ACT: Los Alamos National Laboratory currently has a relatively limited capacity to produce plutonium parts, or pits, for warheads. The planned future capacity is 50 to 80 pits per year.

Given that New START [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] will reduce the deployed U.S. arsenal by hundreds of warheads, why do you believe this production capacity is still necessary?

D’Agostino: To be clear: pit production actually does not happen in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility. Just to be clear on that. Pit production happens in one of our facilities within the technical area [at Los Alamos] that does this work.

Fifty to 80 pits per year is the throughput rate we expect that we might possibly need out into the future. [That] doesn’t necessarily mean we need it now, but we might possibly need it in order to take care of the stockpile, given the size of the stockpile.

The reductions of the New START treaty were factored into that particular analysis. So if you think about the need to conduct a life extension on a warhead and any modifications you might have to make to an existing pit in order to extend its life, and how long our life extensions would typically take—our life extension programs typically take 10 years or so on the average, because we do have a number of different warhead types in our stockpile—we believe that 50 to 80 provides a reasonable balance.

The last thing we want to do, because this is a very expensive facility, is—we don’t want to build a larger facility than we need. But we also need to be able to respond to a technical problem in the stockpile should we have to reconstitute a whole warhead type within a reasonable period of time, or respond to a geopolitical change that would require us to ramp up. These are all political decisions, of course, and technical decisions.

The nexus is that crossover between politics and technical, that sphere we’re operating in. But 50 to 80 is considered a reasonable throughput rate. It’s very small; it’s nothing at all like we were [doing] during the Cold War. It’s much smaller than the Cold War.

In fact, the point that is very important to remember on a Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility is that we’re trying to lay the groundwork for the future. Get out of two plutonium facilities and move down to one plutonium facility. [We don’t need] one at Los Alamos and one at [Lawrence] Livermore [National Laboratory]; we just want one for the nation, that’s all the nation needs. We have hundreds of thousands of [square feet of] plutonium lab space. We need 40 percent of that out into the future.

What we’re trying to do is drive efficiencies. But importantly, these investments are important in order for us to do our nuclear counterterrorism work and in order for us to do our nonproliferation work. The Chemistry and Metallurgy [Research] Replacement facility is a facility that is needed to do the analysis on the samples to make sure our stockpile is safe. It also—should there be a condition in the future where we get our hands on plutonium that’s been smuggled—allows us to do some nuclear forensics work.

ACT: In 2006 the NNSA published the results of a laboratory study that found that plutonium pits have lifetimes of at least 85 years. The NNSA [fiscal year] 2012 budget states that “a lifetime was established for a W88 primary, advancing our lifetime estimates beyond the pit lifetimes produced in 2006.”

Can you tell us what the new lifetime estimate is for the W88 pit?

D’Agostino: No. Sorry, I can’t. These [estimates] were general. If you recall, the 2006 study spoke in some generalities because there are ranges. In fact, I might add, we’re quite fortunate that we had these longer lifetimes. Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos did the detailed studies. If the lifetimes were significantly shorter, we would have been forced as a nation to accelerate our activities, and then we would have, of course, run the risk of potentially overbuilding the size of the pit production capabilities. So, longer lifetimes is good stuff.

ACT: What is the NNSA’s current opinion on how long pits last, in general?

D’Agostino: In general, we’ll stick by the data you talked about earlier.

ACT: Now we’d like to shift to the NNSA’s nonproliferation programs, particularly nuclear security and fissile materials disposition.

It has been almost two years since President Obama announced the effort to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” There have been a number of significant accomplishments in those two years. What are your priorities for 2011 and 2012? What can we expect to see by 2013—the end of the four-year block—and beyond that?

D’Agostino: The president has made it very clear what my priorities are. I love it when I get clear guidance. The clear guidance is to secure all the most vulnerable material in four years. And we have a plan. We are implementing that plan.

The plan, of course, needs to be resourced, and we’re resourcing that plan. The president’s budget requests for FY11 and 12 and the out-years do resource that plan. If numbers change, obviously we will look at our priorities to make sure the right thing happens given the priorities. If that means making some tough decisions, we’re ready to make those tough decisions.

ACT: What can we expect to see by 2013, four years since he made the statement? [Are there things] we should look for beyond that as well?

D’Agostino: Well, the plan that we have right now completes this effort in December of 2013. That’s the key. So we’re working to that plan. We’ve identified a scope of work to get this four-year material secured. Not just ourselves, of course; we’re doing this with the international community.

Last April at the nuclear security summit, there was a commitment that two years hence we would meet again in Seoul and see how well we’ve done. We’re tracking very closely against the commitments made by other nations on work that they would do in order to get this material secured and in some cases removed. For some of the work that they’re doing, we’re partners with them to make sure it happens. So, that is in our plan and in our budget.

It’s exciting work. What’s wonderful about this is there’s a reporting-back mechanism to the highest levels in government—to the presidents or the prime ministers—that says, “I said I was going to do this two years ago; well, how did I do?” The whole world is watching. This is great stuff.

ACT: As you said, though, there are likely to be some budget constraints. In its budget request for fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration requested an increase of more than $200 million from the fiscal year 2010 appropriation for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. But because Congress has been funding the government with a continuing resolution [CR], spending for the first five months of fiscal year 2011 has been at the 2010 level.

What impact has that had on the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material?

D’Agostino: Because the FY11 budget is still being negotiated, we don’t know where it’s going to end up. What I will say, what works with a continuing resolution is that the continuing resolutions provide us flexibility in the executive branch to move resources to the areas of highest priority.

Will there be some impacts? There likely will be some minor impacts associated with, “Well, we’ll have to move this shipment back a few months.” Our plan was to front-load that Global Threat Reduction Initiative work to get it under way robustly in 2011 so that as schedules change, we don’t lose track and we can still hit our December 2013 target. Our plan is still to do that. We’re down at the FY10 levels, but we can reallocate resources.

I would say if we’re at a situation where we’re going through a whole year [with a continuing resolution that does not provide the requested increases], there will likely be some greater impacts. We adjust our programs on a regular basis as a result of [the uncertainty of operating under a series of short-term continuing resolutions]. Do we anticipate another weeklong CR? How does it impact our plans? As a three-month CR becomes a six-month CR, becomes a full-year CR, there are actually different plans that have to be developed in each case. With the three-month CR, well, I can hold out, but with the one-year CR, I might have to delay some things. If I knew what the future was like, it would be easy, but I don’t. So, that’s why this is hard.

ACT: You mentioned reallocating. So, you’re already looking at areas other than the nuclear security efforts where you can draw money from and reallocate it to nuclear security, is that what you were saying?

D’Agostino: That’s right. What we have been doing is looking at areas where resources aren’t being spent at the pace we expected or may be of lower priority. At this point right now, all of our programs are running on track because we typically have a slight carryover balance that we bring in from the previous year. We’re on a one-year kind of an approach. So, we’re managing just fine, but things get harder as the year goes on.

ACT: Turning to military fissile materials, you are working on the disposition of more than 30 metric tons of former U.S. weapons plutonium by building a plant at the Savannah River Site to turn it into mixed-oxide [MOX] fuel that is to be used in commercial reactors.

The MOX plant is the largest item in the nonproliferation budget; you are requesting $579 million for construction [of the MOX fuel fabrication plant and two supporting facilities] for fiscal year 2012.

Given that the United States has historically tried to discourage civilian use of plutonium and given that converting plutonium into reactor fuel is not the only option for disposition, please tell us why you see this as a major budgetary and policy priority.

D’Agostino: It’s a significant priority for a couple of reasons. One is, we’re talking about 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, probably the most dangerous stuff on earth. Using it up, putting it in a form that it can never be used for its original purpose, is a great goal. Two is that we’re going to be able to extract a significant amount of energy out of this material.

When we’ve done studies in the past, we’ve looked at immobilization, long-term storage. At the end of the day, with all of those other approaches, you still at the end of the day—after 50 years, at the end of 100 years—have this 34 metric tons of plutonium. Using the approach the nation is proceeding down right now, that material doesn’t exist in that particular form. It’s really, in my view, the ultimate swords-into-ploughshares program. It’s that conversion of that material and getting rid of that material.

The president’s plan, the plan that we have laid out right now, really focuses on the material. Securing the material at sites, detecting illicit transfers of material across borders or between geographic locations, not making more material, and getting rid of material that you don’t need. Obviously, this question you asked on mixed-oxide fuel falls into that last category and also has the added benefit of extracting some of the value out of the material that the nation put into it.

ACT: What’s the timetable for producing the MOX fuel and irradiating it in commercial reactors, especially that second piece?

D’Agostino: Well, the timetable right now is that we’re currently operating on a track to get the facility up and operating in 2016.

Now, just like very many complicated things, it’s not a light switch that flips “on” on day one. In making this many metric tons per year of material, there’s a ramp-up in its approach. What we’re doing right now, though, is focusing on project management; that’s a key element of what we want to do in order to make sure that we’re successful.

The NNSA’s fiscal year 2012 program and budget request has a significant number of large projects in it, and the focus now is going to be making sure that we deliver on those projects on time, on schedule, as committed once we hit our performance baseline.

That’s all about improving the way we do business, which is one of the three themes that I’ve mentioned in presentations in the past. The first theme is investing in our future. The second theme is implementing the president’s nuclear security agenda, the topic which we’ve talked about. The third theme is improving the way we do business. So, the focus is on getting that MOX plant together.

[On the question of when reactors will start loading MOX fuel,] there’s work we’re doing with Energy Northwest and with the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] to reach some agreements on how we would use this fuel on what type of time period. With the Tennessee Valley Authority, we have a commitment with the NNSA to do a supplemental environmental impact statement to evaluate the use of this material in the five TVA reactors that can use it. Then the agreements will get modified, and we’ll go from there.

We expect this, in about the 2012 time frame to come to fruition, because we recognize that we need an end-stream user. With Energy Northwest, we’ve recently entered into an agreement to examine the use of this material. Typically what that involves is making the right types of components that can be irradiated so that they can be examined by the end user to make sure they’re comfortable in putting this fuel inside their reactors.

ACT: Just to be clear, they’re doing testing; you don’t have contracts with those utilities to go ahead yet. Is that correct?

D’Agostino: That’s correct. We have agreements to do the upfront work necessary before we can actually put a contract in place. Because before we put a contract in place—an agreement that I give you this, and you give me that on this type of timescale—the utilities, appropriately so, need to make sure [they know] what are they getting themselves into. They see value in taking the time and energy to examine this question, and our discussions with TVA are very promising in this area.

ACT: On the timetable, 2018, I think, is when you plan to start loading [MOX fuel] into reactors. Is that still the timetable, and does that allow time for testing of the assemblies and all the other preliminary [work] and licensing and everything that’s necessary to be ready to actually start loading commercial fuel elements into reactors of that kind?

D’Agostino: I believe so. I don’t have the exact date on the tip of my tongue. That sounds about right. It’s a period of time after, obviously, the MOX plant has to get up and running. It gives us the time to get these elements in place.

ACT: You talked about the five reactors at the TVA, that’s the two Sequoyah and three Browns Ferry [reactors], I assume. But if I recall, the two Sequoyah reactors are also backup reactors for the tritium mission. So, is there a potential juggle you’ll have to do?

D’Agostino: Those specific details will have to get handled if and when they’re needed at that particular time. That’s how I would view that.

ACT: Is there anything that we should have asked that we didn’t that you want to make clear?

D’Agostino: Well, first of all I want to thank Arms Control Today. I appreciate the honor of receiving this award [as an Arms Control Person of the Year]. I recognize it’s not because of me, frankly, it’s because of all the work of the men and women in the NNSA that work all over the world and in this country to get this work done. I think it’s actually a recognition that the NNSA is making the shift from a Cold War nuclear weapons complex to a 21st-century nuclear security enterprise, where nuclear security is the paramount watchword. Frankly, I’m very excited about it, and the people in the NNSA are as well.

ACT: I should say also that the award was voted on [by participants in an online poll], so we can’t take credit for choosing you.

Thank you.



Updated June 2, 2011: Shaw Areva MOX Services, the NNSA's prime contractor for the surplus-weapons-plutonium disposition program, has a contract with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to explore the potential use in the Columbia reactor of MOX fuel made with the surplus weapons plutonium. The reactor is located near Richland, Washington and is operated by Energy Northwest, which is considering a paper study with PNNL that would look at certain aspects of using MOX fuel at Columbia, including licensing, operational requirements, and security. As of June 1, 2011, Energy Northwest had not signed the subcontract for the study with PNNL.


Interviewed by Tom Z. Collina and Daniel Horner


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