“Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.”

– George Stephanopolous
ABC News
January 1, 2005

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

Taking Stock of the NPT: An Interview With U.S. Special Representative Susan Burk

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

Susan Burk has served as special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation since June 8, 2009. In that position, she plays a lead role in U.S. government preparations for the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which is scheduled to take place May 3-28 at the United Nations. Burk previously served as deputy coordinator for homeland security in the Department of State’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. She also has served as acting assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and in other nonproliferation posts at the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Arms Control Today spoke with Burk in her State Department office January 19. She outlined her views on recent progress in strengthening the NPT regime and on the challenges that the treaty parties will have to confront at the review conference.

The interview was transcribed by Caitlin Taber. It has been edited for clarity.

The interview is part of an Arms Control Today article series, which began in the January/February 2010 issue, on topics related to the NPT and the upcoming review conference.

ACT: In April of last year, President Barack Obama said efforts to contain nuclear weapons dangers “are centered in a global nuclear non-proliferation regime,” and he pledged to strengthen the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty “as a basis for cooperation.” How does the United States hope to use the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May to strengthen the goals of the treaty?

Burk: I think in the first instance, what we are looking at is a review conference that will revalidate the importance of the treaty for international and regional security and stability. That would be the first goal—what some officials have been calling a renewal and a reinvigoration of the NPT. That is the large strategic goal. We also think the review conference can address measures under all three pillars of the treaty that would strengthen the treaty and improve its implementation. The first would be the disarmament pillar. Obviously, the president has laid out an ambitious disarmament program, steps that he is committed to take. On the nonproliferation pillar, the United States is looking at issues of compliance, safeguards, support for the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in all aspects—financial, human, political support. With regard to the third pillar, we are addressing the challenging issues, the interesting issues, that have now arisen with the new focus on nuclear power in response to the global consensus on climate change. There are a number of important actions to be taken up under all three pillars of the treaty, and the review conference is the place to address those issues.

ACT: How important is a final conference document outlining specific benchmarks and goals to a successful NPT review conference and future efforts to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation system?

Burk: If you look historically, tremendous importance has been attached to production of a consensus final document. But if you also look at the history, we see that that’s an elusive goal. I would have to say personally it would be very positive if we could agree on a statement, a forward-looking statement, and we are prepared to work very hard with our NPT partners to see what we can do on that. But we think we ought to be striving for quality, not quantity. Perhaps if we go for something brief and concise but specific, we might be able to be successful. But success can be defined in other ways as well.

ACT: I hope we’ll get into more detail on how we define that. How would you describe the political climate leading into this year’s review conference? Is it more conducive to reaching agreement on the treaty’s three pillars that you just mentioned than in 2005, and if so, why?

Burk: Well, I wasn’t involved in 2005, so I don’t want to do too much speculation. I think we’re facing a number of the same problems and concerns and stresses, if you will, on the system that we faced in 2005.[1] That includes North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty and Iran’s program. So those are constants, but there is definitely an improved atmosphere. From all accounts from my colleagues who’ve told me about the preparatory meetings leading up to this, it is definitely a different atmosphere, very positive, in large part due to the United States’ embrace of multilateral diplomacy in a very significant way, and also because of the disarmament proposals that the United States and President Obama have put forward. So I think we’re in a good position.

ACT: In April, President Obama pledged that the United States “will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons,” beginning with steps “to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy” and by pursuing a new, verifiable START with Russia. Could you please explain for us the case that the United States will present at the upcoming review conference regarding its record over the past year in connection with the implementation of its Article 6 disarmament commitment?[2]

Burk: I think the case that we’re going to make is the case that I’ve been making over the six months that I’ve been on the job and the case that other administration officials have been making. The president made clear that the United States has a special responsibility for the nuclear disarmament provisions of the NPT and accepts that responsibility and to that end has committed to negotiate with Russia a new START agreement, to pursue CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] ratification, and to participate in negotiations in Geneva on a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], and he has talked about reducing the role of nuclear weapons. How that will be translated after the Nuclear Posture Review is still to be determined, but I think we will make the case that we are committed to a number of the major initiatives that have been on the agenda. The U.S. president is determined to achieve them.

ACT: Is the case dependent on having START negotiations completed or the treaty ratified? To what extent is it dependent on the status of START at that point?

Burk: I have been making this point very clearly, and I would have to say that my foreign interlocutors, who are very sophisticated, understand how our political system works. They understand that treaties require the advice and consent of the Senate, and that is not something that the United States can promise will be done by any certain date. That’s very well appreciated, so I don’t think the status of that agreement—whether or not it is ratified—will have any impact. The commitment of the United States and the credibility of the president making those commitments are very important. That’s what we have now, and that’s what’s working for us.

ACT: At the conference last September on facilitating the entry into force of the CTBT, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged to “work in the months ahead both to seek the advice and consent of the United States Senate to ratify the treaty, and to secure ratification by others so that the treaty can enter into force.”

What does the administration intend to do in the months prior to the review conference to demonstrate its commitment to achieving these goals?

Burk: The president has not set any timeline for achievement of ratification. This goes back to the point I just made—that ratification is a Senate prerogative and we can’t prejudge that. Later this spring, we’re going to see publication of both the National Academy of Sciences update to their 2002 report on the key technical issues and a National Intelligence Estimate. I think those are the two developments that we can see coming between now and May.

ACT: What is the United States doing to pursue ratification by the other Annex 2 states?[3]

Burk: I’m not the right person to ask that question. I’m completely focused on preparing for the review conference, and I’m not involved in other negotiations. This is a full-time job.

ACT: UN Security Council Resolution 1887 recalls the five declared nuclear-weapon states’ April 1995 security assurances against the use of nuclear weapons to the non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the NPT.[4] In the context of the 2000 NPT Review Conference, the five declared their “unequivocal commitment” to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Are the five nuclear-weapon states considering similar statements prior to the upcoming conference?

Burk: The United States and the other NPT nuclear-weapon states are engaging in consultations as we traditionally do in connection with the review conference, and we’re looking at where there might be areas of agreement that would be reflected in some sort of a statement. But we don’t have that yet.

ACT: But it is something that is under consideration?

Burk: Under consideration. It’s become sort of routine to do this, so we are engaging in consultations. So we’ll see how that goes.

ACT: And likely to be on the issue of negative security assurances or something more broadly focused?

Burk: On security assurances, we still have the long-standing negative security assurance that every U.S. administration has reiterated.[5] That’s our position right now, and I can’t predict changes at this point. But it’s a good assurance, it’s a solid assurance, and that’s what we have at the moment.

ACT: Since the last review conference, the IAEA Board of Governors has found one NPT party, Iran, to be in noncompliance with its safeguards obligations. The handling of that country’s situation was a major point of contention at the 2005 review conference.

In the view of the United States, how should the upcoming review conference address the importance of compliance, and can it agree on a set of “real and immediate consequences” for noncompliance?

Burk: This is one of those issues that is a carryover from 2005. What’s important to remember is that, with very few exceptions, all the other NPT parties are in compliance with their obligations under the treaty. What we have been discussing with our partners as we engage in diplomatic outreach is the importance of full compliance with the treaty to maintaining the integrity of the treaty and the corrosive effect that noncompliance has on the treaty itself and on the understandings that other countries have had. We expect that this will be discussed in May. It has to be discussed—full compliance, full support for safeguards, and all those other measures. Exactly how it will be discussed is up in the air at the moment. There are different views on how to handle the issue. But I don’t think there is any disagreement among parties—certainly not in my consultations—that full compliance is absolutely essential.

ACT: But part of the issue here is that because a final document or any agreement there requires consensus, and one or more parties may be not complying, then how do you achieve a consensus when one of the people who would have to agree is one of the countries who would be directly affected by that?

Burk: Well it depends on what you’re saying in the document. If your goal is to censure countries, I think we all can understand that if one of the countries that you are censuring is in the room and has the ability to block consensus, we can predict how that will turn out. But there are other ways to deal with the issues of compliance and noncompliance and strengthen safeguards. It’s not clear; there are discussions going around right now on how to deal with these issues. We are all very aware of the fact that it is difficult to move forward on proposals that target specific countries if they are able to block a consensus. We’ll have to see whether the desire to have consensus—what kind of power such a veto right affords.

ACT: You said Iran is not in compliance, with a few other exceptions. Can you say what other countries you consider not to be in compliance with their NPT obligations right now?

Burk: What I have in mind when I make that comment is North Korea, which announced it was withdrawing from the treaty, after violating it. So that remains an outstanding issue on the NPT docket.

ACT: What about Syria?

Burk: Syria, to the best of my knowledge, is still under consideration at the IAEA. I don’t know how that will play, but I don’t think there’s been a final report on Syria in Vienna.

ACT: You mention, in the context of noncompliance, strengthening safeguards. Resolution 1887 has called on all countries to adopt an additional protocol and also to make an additional protocol a condition for nuclear supply.[6] What are the prospects of adding some sort of an agreement at the review conference on the proposals?

Burk: There are lots of different views on the [Model] Additional Protocol, so I don’t want to speculate about what the review conference may or may not agree specifically on it. But it has become an important point for us to raise in consultations because we have ratified the Additional Protocol now and we do believe that it should become the new verification standard. But the more important point is the fact that [Mohamed ElBaradei,] the former director-general of the IAEA, before he retired, made a very strong statement, which I quote frequently, that without the Additional Protocol the IAEA has no capability to verify undeclared facilities. Our experience over the past years and discovery of clandestine nuclear facilities led to the negotiation of the Additional Protocol. We learn from our mistakes. It is very clear that we need to look forward on the Additional Protocol. There are well over 100 countries that have had additional protocols accepted by the IAEA and 90-some countries that have brought it into force. This is a critical mass of states that have adopted the Additional Protocol. We will continue to discuss with our partners how we can make it universal, invoking the words of the IAEA leadership on what they need in order to do their job, and we expect that there will be a strong statement of support for the Additional Protocol at the review conference in May.

ACT: In 2008 the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] agreed to allow civil nuclear trade with India even though it doesn’t allow comprehensive IAEA safeguards covering all of its nuclear facilities. Has the exemption for India complicated efforts to achieve universalization for the Additional Protocol?

Burk: I can’t say that that, in and of itself, has complicated efforts to achieve universal adherence to the additional protocol.

ACT: Has the issue of the U.S.-Indian deal and the broader India deal with the NSG factored in discussions? Has that been raised by countries in discussing obligations they need to assume and responsibility under the NPT?

Burk: Yes. It gets raised frequently in NPT discussions, and our response is that it was seen as a way to bring India closer to the nonproliferation norm, to an agreement that would in the end bring more of their facilities under safeguards. That was the motivation. But it does come up frequently in discussions.

ACT: Moving on a bit to the issue of Article 4,[7] the Obama administration has backed proposals for international arrangements, including a so-called fuel bank, intended to give non-nuclear-weapon states an incentive not to pursue enrichment or reprocessing technologies.[8] But as you’ve seen, there have been many countries who haven’t exactly embraced this concept. How would the United States like the upcoming review conference to address Article 4 issues?

Burk: Well, addressing Article 4 issues is a broad area, and I think the fuel banks really relate to the resurgence of interest in nuclear power. But let me just make a comment about the nonpower applications. We are very mindful of not forgetting these applications in nuclear energy because, with few exceptions, NPT parties, especially in the developing world, have benefited from access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy in nonpower forms, such as medicine, agriculture, industry, universities with small reactors, and that sort of thing. In many ways, we have gotten so comfortable with this technology that we now more or less take it for granted, and we forget that it really is derived from the Atoms for Peace program of the 1950s and is made possible by the NPT.

On the power aspect of it, there is an energetic debate going on [at the IAEA] in Vienna right now on fuel banks and other multilateral fuel assurances. As I read the reports of the debates and the statements, I’ve described it as a glass half full, not a glass half empty. It is clearly a debate that is generating a lot of interest and raising a lot of issues—technical, commercial, legal, political—that need to be worked through. But our thinking is that the review conference is not the place to solve those problems. It’s not going to answer the questions and come up with the right answer on multilateral fuel banks and fuel assurances. But it is a legitimate topic of discussion because it really goes to the heart of Article 4, particularly if we’re moving in the direction of increased use of nuclear power. But the review conference could encourage the discussions in Vienna to continue because it’s important to have the right experts addressing these hard questions and urge the IAEA to continue to address them. So, we think that would be a good outcome. The review conference could usefully give a boost to these discussions and encourage that they continue, without prejudice to how they would come out.

ACT: Can we just turn that around a bit? Because, as you say it might not be the purview of the review conference to decide something that is being discussed in Vienna, but it’s the whole issue that the divisions among countries on the fuel banks might be seen as showing the different views of how the Article 4 obligations should play out, the balance between the inalienable right versus the need to be in conformity with Articles 1 and 2. Doesn’t that divided vote at the Board of Governors indicate a very different perception among different countries about what exactly Article 4 requires, whether the dissemination of enrichment actually constitutes a proliferation risk or not, and basic, fundamental questions for Article 4 like that?

Burk: It does, and I think if you look at the review conference, this is a legitimate discussion to have in the Main Committee on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We can debate this issue. We have to sort through some of the political debates and the more practical technical debates. At the moment, we have got a mix of both. So I can’t prejudge the discussion, but I think you framed it correctly. That is an issue we can expect to spend time on in New York. But again, I don’t think that the review conference is necessarily going to agree on a solution to the problem. I think the IAEA is where this debate needs to continue because it has the right technical experts. Perhaps the review conference could agree on some principles under the “peaceful uses” heading, but I can’t predict what the outcome would be. We will get into this discussion of inalienable rights because that is clearly the point that has struck a nerve. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity to explain where the multilateral nuclear assurance proposals stand now and their advantages. The whole goal here is to try and find a way to make nuclear power—if that is the course a country wants to pursue—affordable, safe, and secure without contributing to proliferation. I think, in the end, we can get through some of these discussions and get to that point.

ACT: You mentioned earlier that North Korea was an outstanding issue, that they declared they had withdrawn from the treaty. Since that declaration, NPT states-parties have been trying to find a way to deal with the potential for additional withdrawals. How would the United States like the review conference to address that question?

Burk: First, it is important to state up front, because there is frequently a misunderstanding, that the United States is not seeking any changes to the withdrawal provision of the NPT.[9] We believe that states should have the right to withdraw and to decide what conditions require them to take such a significant step. But what we have been looking at is the issue of potential abuse of the withdrawal clause. When I first came on board, I was reading about what had been done in 2005. Articles have been written by folks outside of government on this issue, and NPT parties, including the United States, have tabled papers at past PrepComs [Preparatory Committee meetings] on this issue. The concerns seem to be, in the first instance, a situation where a country violates the treaty and then withdraws as a way to escape the violations. I have not encountered anyone in my contacts who believes that a state should not be held accountable for those violations even if it decides to withdraw. So our effort has been to try to identify some specific points or specific measures that the NPT parties might agree that they would be prepared to take, one, in the event a state announced it was withdrawing, to determine whether or not it was in violation, and two, if it were, to remedy that violation. I think the North Korea case is the one that most people are familiar with.

ACT: That discussion has been going on for some time. Do you believe that the states-parties at this conference are close to an agreement as to what the collective response should be?

Burk: At this moment?

ACT: Is this a particular goal of the United States at this conference at this time?

Burk: It is one of our goals. We would like to see the conference address this issue and ideally agree on some steps. But at this moment in time, are we close to agreement on that? No. We are still talking about it and expanding the circle of countries that we are sharing specific ideas with.

ACT: Even if you manage to find agreement on all those issues at the review conference, another outstanding issue that many observers believe might need to be addressed, if there is going to be an overall agreement, is the 1995 resolution on the Middle East, which calls for the establishment of a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone and for all states in the region to join the NPT. At last year’s Preparatory Committee, key states, including Egypt, had issued specific ideas for advancing the goals of the resolution. What is the possibility at the review conference for getting agreement on either those proposals or other ideas for advancing progress on the resolution?

Burk: I’m not into predicting possibilities for agreement at this point on things. What’s important is that we are making very clear that we support fully the goals and objectives of the 1995 resolution. To the extent there was any question about that in the past, we are trying to set that straight: We support it. We support the achievement of a zone free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. I can’t speak to specific proposals on this. We are very aware of the proposals that are out there and understand the importance of this issue to this review conference.

ACT: But if I could just follow up: The 1995 resolution was widely supported. Since then, it has been widely supported. Yet there has been, by all measures, very little progress toward that goal, and one of the key points of friction at the last review conference was the apparent lack of progress on this goal. What ideas is the United States prepared to support to help advance that goal even in modest ways? If there is not a possibility of agreement at this review conference on this subject, how likely is it that the conference as a whole might agree to a set of benchmarks and standards to strengthen all three pillars of the regime?

Burk: It is important to remember that the situation on the ground in 1995 was very different than the situation on the ground in 2010. In 1995 there was one country [in the Middle East] outside the treaty. In 2010 I need not elaborate on the additional complicating factors that have developed. So all of these developments in that region on the nonproliferation front have just added new complicating factors into any solution. That said, I think there is a good-faith effort to see if there is a way forward on this issue. It will require the goodwill, creativity, and constructive energy of more than one country. We will hope for the best, but I don’t want to predict what the outcome would be. In terms of progress on the three pillars, again, I don’t want to speculate. There is an awful lot to be gained at this review conference on all three pillars. I think we have to see where we are in May on the three pillars and on the Middle East resolution and on what there is broad, near consensus.

ACT: A month before the review conference, the United States is going to be hosting a summit on nuclear security here in Washington. How might the review conference itself advance some of the goals of that summit in terms of dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorism and securing weapons-usable nuclear material?

Burk: That is a good question. I get asked all the time about this because the proximity of the two meetings leads to a lot of confusion about their relationship, and I am at pains to tell people that they are different events. One is an NPT forum; the other is not an NPT forum. The security summit is dealing with a very narrow slice of the problem, focusing on nuclear terrorism. At this point, it will be up to the participants in the security summit that are NPT parties­, including the United States, to decide what out of that might be exportable to the review conference. I just can’t prejudge. I’m not involved directly in the preparations for the security summit. The issue could be relevant to NPT discussions, but I think we really need to leave it up to the parties to decide what to carry forward on that. That is what I have been saying when asked, and I think it’s the best way to handle this issue.

ACT: During the Preparatory Committee meeting last year, in President Obama’s personal message to the meeting, he said that the treaty needs to be strengthened and deal with nuclear weapons threats and the threat of nuclear terrorism. Is there something that the review conference can do to deal with the terrorism issue?

Burk: We haven’t been focusing on the terrorism piece, per se. We’re really focusing on the broad issue of securing and safeguarding materials, including encouraging all states to have comprehensive safeguard agreements or small quantities protocols,[10] which not all have, and to adhere to the Additional Protocol. Sort of “Nonproliferation 101” if you will—first principles. If you can secure nuclear materials against theft or diversion, that would make a big contribution. Again, we have the nuclear security summit, but it is not a meeting of NPT parties. We’ll see what comes out of that. I have been reading articles about this and listening to people talking about the relationship between safety, security, and safeguards. To my mind, it is all part of the same thing.

ACT: You said it is part of Nonproliferation 101. The NPT specifically refers to things such as safeguards and so on, but I don’t think there are specific textual references to things having to do with nuclear security and those kinds of obligations. Yet there are countries­—I’m thinking of the United Kingdom’s “Road to 2010”—where they talk about how this needs to be the fourth pillar of the NPT. So how is that going to be worked in? How will that be integrated into a discussion that is specifically focused on this treaty?

Burk: Regarding the idea of a fourth pillar—what we have to be careful of is that we don’t convey the impression that we are trying to create new obligations under the NPT. If you look at strengthening the IAEA across the board—not just safeguards, but in terms of all of its programs—that then gives you additional capacity to deal with these security issues. But I do think that the threat of loose or vulnerable material is something that NPT parties could take up. Again, there is growing international interest in pursuing nuclear power and other kinds of nuclear technologies. The international community will have to be very mindful of how to do that in a safe and secure way and not contribute to proliferation.

ACT: As I’m sure you are well aware, after the review conference is over, the gavel comes down, there is still quite a bit of work to do to strengthen the disarmament and nonproliferation regime. What does the United States intend to do in the months and years ahead to try and work toward the goal?

Burk: I would say your question goes directly to a point that I have been making in my meetings with other treaty parties, which is that the NPT review conference is a very important event in the life of the treaty, a critical event, but it is not an end in and of itself. The goal here is to renew and reinvigorate the treaty and agree on some specific steps that the international community is prepared to take in all three pillars to move forward. But very importantly, a constructive, positive review conference will give important momentum to our efforts in Vienna at the IAEA, in Geneva at the CD [Conference on Disarmament], in New York at the UN, to deal with all the issues, because that is where the work will continue to be carried out. This includes negotiations on the FMCT at the CD and dealing with issues of noncompliance at the UN, strengthening safeguards at the IAEA. So we think that the review conference can give a real boost to these efforts. You will see the United States continue to support, aggressively support, progress in all three treaty pillars, consistent with the president’s agenda.

ACT: Are there any thoughts at this point, in January of course, about, aside from you, who else might be representing the United States at this once-every-five-years review conference?

Burk: No, we don’t have a decision on that. I expect to be up there for the month as a working head of delegation, but beyond that, we don’t have any decision at this point. I would say that it is very clear that, at the highest levels, there is a keen appreciation of the importance of the NPT. I think the president has made that clear in statement after statement. The secretary of state, the undersecretary for arms control and international security have also done so. We’re working on an issue that we know is the very highest priority and on which we have the highest-level support for our efforts. That is a very gratifying thing.

ACT: Thank you very much.




1. See Wade Boese, “Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Meeting Sputters,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2005.

2. Article 6 states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” For the full text of the treaty, see www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/npt1.html.

3. Under the treaty’s Annex 2, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. Nine of those countries—China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States—have not ratified the treaty.

4. The five countries that the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty recognizes as nuclear-weapon states are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Statements pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states are often known as negative security assurances. Paragraph 9 of UN Security Council Resolution 1887 refers to such assurances. For the text of Resolution 1887 and background information on it, see www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sc9746.doc.htm. See also Cole Harvey, “Nuclear Arms Resolution Passed at UN Summit,” Arms Control Today, October 2009.

5. For a historical summary of U.S. security assurances, see Arms Control Association, Fact Sheet, “U.S. ‘Negative Security Assurances’ At A Glance”.

6. The 1997 Model Additional Protocol provides the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with greater authority to verify all nuclear activities within a state, increasing the chances of detecting undeclared nuclear activities. Each country negotiates an individual additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA based upon the 1997 Model Additional Protocol.

7. Article 4 says, in part, that “[n]othing 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.”

8. For an account of recent IAEA action in this area, see Daniel Horner, “IAEA Board Approves Russian Fuel Bank Plan,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2010.

9. Article 10 of the treaty states, “Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”

10. Countries that are not pursuing significant nuclear activities can negotiate a small quantities protocol with the IAEA. Such a protocol suspends some of the requirements of IAEA comprehensive safeguards agreements as long as the country maintains only limited nuclear activities. The protocol’s requirements were strengthened in September 2005, and paragraph 15(a) of UN Security Council Resolution 1887 calls on all NPT non-nuclear-weapon states to adopt comprehensive IAEA safeguards or a modified version of the small quantities protocol. See Paul Kerr, “IAEA Board Closes Safeguards Loophole,” Arms Control Today, November 2005.


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

Interview with OPCW Director-General Rogelio Pfirter



Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Since 2002, Rogelio Pfirter has served as director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international body charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Pfirter, an Argentinean diplomat, replaced José Bustani, who was voted out of office.[1] Pfirter’s second four-year term will end in July; last December the members of the CWC appointed Ahmet Üzümcü to succeed him. [2] Arms Control Today spoke with Pfirter on December 14 about the OPCW’s achievements, as well as current and future challenges.

The interview was transcribed by Andrew Fisher. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Over the eight years of your tenure, what do you see as the biggest accomplishments? What are the biggest problems that you were not able deal with? What do you hope to achieve before you hand the reins over to Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, the next director-general? It may be a bit early to sum up but maybe you can try nevertheless.

Pfirter: Overall I feel satisfied. Objectively one can say that the organization is in much better shape today than it was in 2002. In 2002, there were big questions about the continued viability and ability of the organization as such. I remember very well, in July 2002 when I came, there was a profound political crisis. My predecessor’s term had been terminated early, there was a big division between some member states, and the secretariat and there were no industry inspections going on. A lot of inspectors were just sitting idly. The destruction [of chemical weapons stockpiles] in some important countries had not even started. Overall, there was a fear that the organization might find it very difficult to move on, certainly after the high expectations that gave birth to the CWC.

Today, we have a very different situation. We have moved on substantially in the implementation of the core program. Not because of the director-general but because of the overall atmosphere surrounding the organization, we have seen a substantial increase in destruction. We have seen a substantial increase and consolidation on the nonproliferation front. We have also seen a parallel increase in the other core activities of assistance and protection as well as international cooperation. Not only that, I think that as a result of us having been able to deliver on these very concrete objectives of the convention, the overall political atmosphere surrounding the organization is much stronger. We operate by consensus. It is today considered an organization that is a model and a reference for others, certainly uniquely successful in the field of disarmament and nonproliferation. The fact that seven highly qualified diplomats from very important countries presented themselves as candidates [for the post of director-general][3] I think is a sign of the respectability and regard in which the OPCW is kept today. I think also that on the administrative front, we have been able to establish an organization that is efficiently administered and managed. For the last five years we have been able to propose zero nominal growth budgets with no detriment whatsoever to our ability to deliver on the core front. Program delivery has been always to the full. Hopefully, all these things can be assessed as positive.

Now, do I regret that some things have not been achieved? Certainly. First of all, I think one our big achievements has also certainly been on the front of universality. We have 188 states-parties today. So we have come a long way; we cover 98 percent of the surface of the earth. However, I do regret that, much as we have made enormous progress, we still have not been able to bring in all the countries that are out there. There are still seven missing, of which four are very important for the ultimate success of the organization─Egypt, Israel, Syria and North Korea. So that I regret that I have not been able to accomplish that to the full, although I believe again we have made substantial progress.

I also regret that it doesn’t necessarily seem that 2012 will be the date when the destruction will have been completed.[4] But I also believe that the success of the convention is not tied to any particular date. The dates are very important milestones but certainly what is crucial is the destruction of the stockpiles, is that there is no doubt about a very strong commitment of possessor states.

On nonproliferation, I do regret that we have not been able to gain greater support for the case for inspecting more intensively certain categories of industry, particularly what is called OCPFs [Other Chemical Production Facilities]. I do believe also that there is some unfinished business in terms of getting all the necessary political support for the technical secretariat to have all the necessary equipment to face potential challenge inspections.

I think that that is more or less the status of things. It doesn’t mean that big challenges do not lie ahead. I think that there are very big challenges ahead. The fundamental challenge is probably to continuously ensure that the organization enjoys the degree of necessary political support. That necessary political support is crucial for the ability to perform. This is an organization with a strong technical arm. It could not achieve its goals without such a technical arm. But the technical arm per se would not exist without the necessary political support of governments. So the continued support for disarmament, for nonproliferation of this category of weapons of mass destruction, I see as crucial for the organization to continue its long-term mission.

ACT: Many observers, and you also, have emphasized that the election of your successor was an “example of multilateralism” and that member states acted unified. Yet on a number of issues, including reform of the industry verification system that you mentioned, and interpretation of Article XI,[5] there are ongoing discussion between the North and South. What is your opinion as to how these differences can be overcome?

Pfirter: Well, I think that they need to be overcome through consensus. There is no question: whatever we work for, it will require consensus. But if I may say so, the fact that these are the issues that you mentioned as divisive, is a show of the strength of the organization because although these issues are extremely important, they are not show-stoppers. Nobody is saying that the organization is not doing anything on international cooperation. The dilemma or divisive issue at the moment is how to continue and enhance that from the point of view of some, and what are the ultimate implications of that. But it is not a show-stopper in the sense that it has not split the organization into two. It does not in any way deviate countries from the implementation of the core objectives of disarmament and nonproliferation. I think this organization can survive with a deep debate about international cooperation but it cannot survive if there is no agreement about its disarmament or nonproliferation chapters. I’m not saying that one is less important but I think quite clearly the name of the organization itself tells what this is all about substantially. So this is an issue which is important, but I don’t think this endangers the life of the organization.

ACT: The annual budget for 2010 is 74.5 million euros. This is the fifth time in a row that a zero-nominal-growth budget has been approved by states-parties. At the same time, the scope of responsibilities is growing for the organization. How long do you think you can keep the organization running on this budget?

Pfirter: I don’t think forever. Certainly not. I think that it depends on the year, each year. I think no year necessarily sets a precedent for the following year. The work we do starts from scratch, and zero-nominal-growth budgets should not be the premise but rather the consequence of the process of elaboration of the budget. We have gone for zero nominal growth budgets not out of our whims but because that is the honest evaluation about the resources necessary to carry on full program delivery.

Certainly the commitment to efficient and prudent administrative management requires continued oversight of the issues that have a budgetary implication. It requires from us regular reassessment of the resources and also a re-evaluation of resources, as they come. For instance, take human resources. Every time we have a vacancy, we do not automatically proceed to fill it but rather reconsider whether this is necessary. Reallocation of resources, re-evaluation of resources, elimination of redundancies, and so on: these are all key to prudent management, and I think, as much as is feasible, zero-nominal-growth budgets will continue. And if it is no longer feasible with zero-nominal-growth budgets, then it will be for the director-general to propose.

ACT: How can and how should member states deal with a possible violation of CWC destruction deadlines, particularly by the United States and Russia, which hold the two largest stockpiles? In the past you have mentioned the possibility of holding a special conference in 2012. And in your statement to the conference of states-parties, you refer to the decision by the Executive Council to engage in informal consultations with interested delegations. When do you think member states need to take action on this matter? What action could a special conference of states parties take on this matter?

Pfirter: Well, first of all you speak about violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention if I heard you correctly. The core purpose of the CWC is to ensure the full, irreversible, complete and universal destruction of existing stockpiles by possessor states. I do not believe that we run the risk of that central objective being violated by the two major possessor states. I think all possessor states are fully committed to the complete and irreversible and verifiable destruction of their stockpiles. I also believe that their commitment has never weakened and that they have taken and continue to take the necessary measures for that. So I don’t think the convention will be violated from that point of view.

The convention of course also establishes a date for this to be completed. We know already that present estimates in the United States indicate that they may not be able to complete destruction by that date, and we also know that for all possessor states the remaining task is dangerous, expensive, and complex and that it is not guaranteed that they themselves will finalize it by 2012.[6] So ideally this is a situation that should be remedied within the terms of the convention. The convention does offer the mechanisms for this. I also believe it would be entirely premature at this stage to come to any definitive conclusions. We come with a group of possessor states. We know there is a determination and we come with a commitment to seek continuously ways of accelerating destruction.

Should destruction not be completed by 2012, I think that will be the moment when we need to cross that particular bridge. In the meantime, as I said in my statement, I think it is prudent, it is correct for the policymaking organs and particularly the Executive Council to have entrusted its chairman, on the basis of a proposal made by Brazil, to begin consulting on how delegations see this issue, on how we can be best prepared for the future.

I myself have as an add-on to my official statement included some personal reflections on this issue, and I have tried to indicate that I am convinced that the date of 2012 is extremely important. It is a legally standing date in the convention, but I think we need not to make the ultimate success of the treaty dependent on any particular date.

The treaty will be successful if all chemical weapons are destroyed. The fact that the council has chosen to act in the way it has chosen[7] indicates to me that people indeed share this view of moving on prudently, always bearing in mind as a priority the ultimate goals of the treaty. I have said in preparations for the second review conference [in 2008], in a document I produced in late 2007, that in my view, as we approach 2012, there would probably be merit for some sort of special meeting in order to address this issue. At such a meeting member states could take stock of the actual status of destruction and if the situation would merit it, they could also decide some sort of additional remedial action. I am not saying we ignore the significance of meeting the destruction deadline in 2012, but certainly we do not at the same time overstate its implications for the ultimate central disarmament goal of ensuring destruction of chemical weapons.

ACT: Two questions on verification. The first one is rather general. What is the state of affairs is with regard to shifting the focus of CWC verification from destruction monitoring to industry verification? What progress on this issue has been made since the last review conference in 2008 and what do you think the next steps should be?

Pfirter: I think as a consequence of the ultimate success of the convention in ensuring the total destruction of existing declared stockpiles, unavoidably there will be a progressive devolution in the engagement of the organization into chemical weapons verification activities. You have to recall that at this moment, 85 percent of the verification effort is allocated to destruction. As this is completed, unavoidably there will be less demand on our hands. At the same time, we have a long-term objective in the convention of ensuring the future nonproliferation of chemical weapons. I’m not saying all energies allocated to verifying destruction will automatically be shifted to verifying nonproliferation, but there will certainly be greater emphasis [on] and greater visibility of [the] nonproliferation goal because somehow this will demand and receive the greater percentage of the verification effort.

So I think it is a natural result of the flow of activities, as the convention moves on. Of course disarmament will not be completed because there might still be countries outside which have chemical weapons, but by and large, the task of verifying Russian and American stockpiles will have diminished. I think that we have made progress in the sense that people increasingly recognize this flow of emphasis, not from one to the other, but rather [in the sense of] nonproliferation being more evident. People have to recognize this is not a consequence of any sort of political doctrine of the convention intended to shift priorities, but rather just as I said, it is the natural flow of the implementation of the treaty. The more people understand that, the more confident they will be that this is not a change in the objectives of the convention but rather a reassuring indication of fulfilling it to the full. And the long-term goal is obviously nonproliferation.

ACT: The other question on verification is related to so-called Other Chemical Production Facilities. This is one of the issues you have highlighted over the years. In your statement to the conference of states-parties, you basically admitted that within the current verification framework, it might be very difficult, or maybe even impossible to inspect a sufficient number of OCPFs to be sure that they are not misused for prohibited purposes, at least in the few states that have a large number of OCPFs [8] Instead you have proposed a complementary approach for expanding the number of OCPFs that can be inspected each year. You have said that in those countries with many OCPFs, the national authorities themselves would verify, or could verify some of the declared OCPFs. Can you elaborate how this system would work and how under such a system, other countries would be ensured that these self-inspections would be credible? What have been the reactions to your proposal from states-parties?

Pfirter: After several years of dealing with this issue and after several years of hopefully having shown my strong belief in the need for considerably greater effort on the front of OCPFs─particularly those OCPFs, which, due to their characteristics, offer the potential for quick reconversion for introduction of chemicals which are prohibited under the convention─after these many years and having represented that in my proposals for increased number of inspections, I believe that it is appropriate for me to recall also the fact that the convention itself is a source of some ambiguity on this front. As you might know, there is a quantitative limit on the number of OCPF inspections that could be conducted in any given year or in any particular country. The combined schedule 3[9] and OCPF number of inspections per country, the maximum allowed under the convention is 20. So for a country which declares a thousand OCPFs it is just a question of dividing the totality [of facilities] by the maximum number [of inspections] allowed under the convention, and you can well see how many decades it would take the organization to verify those facilities.

In addition to that, there is some urgency arising from the fact that the organization can only inspect that which has been approved in the budget. The budget negotiations show quite clearly that improving or obtaining the necessary resources to increase, not significantly but just modestly, the number of OCPF inspections, is very complex  It is very, very difficult to get any consensus around it. So the realities of the convention are also augmented by the inflexibilities we face with regard to the practical allocation of resources for this type of inspection.

In that light, and because I remain strongly convinced that we do definitely need to enhance our efforts on that particular category of facilities, I have tried to find a way of enlarging the scope of inspections while at the same time somehow dodging the obstacles we face at present.

I thought that maybe, bringing it to the fore and seeking the cooperation of national authorities in those very few countries that have a large number of facilities, seeking their cooperation, as a complement, not as a substitute for, but as a complement to, what the OPCW will do on its own, and based on the regular budget for [inspecting] OCPFs, maybe could help us to augment the number and quality of what we are addressing currently through our OCPF regime.

Therefore, it will not replace the OCPF program which will work as usual. Rather, through the goodwill of national authorities and through a procedure which will have to be cleared with the OPCW, which will have OPCW endorsement─and that could only be forthcoming if we know there will be no diversion whatsoever from the strictness of the verification regime─we could in this way enlarge the number of facilities under verification.

But let me be clear that this would be without prejudice to the OPCW carrying out its regular program. I don’t see how the regular program can be increased, because we would either need to change the convention or change budget allocations.

ACT: Have you had any reactions to your proposal yet from states-parties?

Pfirter: I made it quite clear this was not part of my statement in what pertains to the implementation of the convention as dictated by the convention but rather a personal reflection. What I sought at this stage is to, if possible, motivate some discussions on the basis of these [proposals] or something different. What I believe is we need to break the inertia and the status quo. Our discussions have been inconclusive with regard to any concrete improvement in the verification of this category and this may be something that will motivate member states.

Some member states have expressed to me an interest in the concept. No one came to me rejecting this. Of course some countries have questions. I am not thinking of presenting a concrete format nor is it a formal proposal. It is just an idea. And I hope in that sense we will have been feeding some food for thought and provoking some brainstorming on the part of member states about this.

I think that we need to do something on this front because otherwise we run the risk of being complacent in believing that we are doing what the convention allows us to do and that is all right, we are very fine and therefore should not be worried. But the truth is we are not doing a sufficient amount in terms of quantity nor in terms of quality. For me, it has been a source of some frustration to see that we have not necessarily succeeded in awakening all member states to what needs to be done in this category. This is a category that is difficult not only for what a member state itself could do but if terrorists would like to engage in something more than an occasional act. This is a category that would open itself for such a possibility. So I think we have to be very careful and we have to act on that.

ACT: The next question is on incapacitants. The last review conference was unable to address the issue of how toxic chemicals, such as incapacitating chemical weapons, can be better regulated when used for permitted law enforcement purposes.[10] For example, Russia has employed chemical incapacitants for domestic counterterrorism. Yet the convention is ambiguous with respect to the types of operations for which such use is permitted.[11] In your statement to the conference of states-parties, you said that at some stage in the not-too-distant future, there is a need to take stock of the growing interest on the part of some governments and civil society in developments related to matters where the convention might be ambiguous or where it has gaps which might have an impact on the ultimate effectiveness of the ban on chemical weapons. You said “incapacitants, or nonlethal weapons is one such area when it comes to exact types and quantities of permitted use,”[12] and you specifically recommended to involve the Scientific Advisory Board[13] and that the next review conference, in 2013, should look into the matter. Can you elaborate a little bit on these proposals and can you explain what type of action needs to be taken?

Pfirter: I prefer to be a bit shy on that front. However, I have to say that throughout my years as director-general, this issue has risen in interest, not just from a purely theoretical point of view. It needs to be tested vis-à-vis the convention, also because some riot control agents have been used in certain circumstances, with the result that we have a special interest of concern. And so these issues are real. I think we will all recognize that when it comes to types and quantities [of toxic chemicals for purposes that are permitted under the CWC], and when one takes into account developments in chemistry and the appearance of so-called nonlethal chemicals, we need to seek further clarification, just to make sure that the CWC remains the ultimate relevant document for addressing anything that has to do with the issues which are central to its objectives.

In that context again, some legitimate questions have been presented and we need to look into that. We need to look into that prudently. We should not allow this issue to be politicized. This issue first and foremost needs to be well informed from the scientific point of view, and that is why I am suggesting that the [OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board] be the first one, if the organization so considers, to look into this matter, and then at the next review conference, if sufficient information has been produced by that date, the member states will look into it. The issue will not go away. There are some countries which are very keen on having it debated. Precisely because I believe we should look at the future and be prepared [and that] we should also recognize that questions have to answered, I have suggested what I have suggested. I think this is a prudent and reasonable way to move on.

ACT: There are only seven states that have not ratified the CWC. What can be done to convince the remaining holdout states, particularly those in the Middle East, to accede to the convention? Which non-member state do you think is likely to ratify or accede next?

Pfirter: I’m hopeful about Angola because I don’t believe there is any issue behind the delay, or at least not any issue related to the objectives and purposes of the convention. I think we should continue to try and support Angola as it focuses on this convention and to present the case for early adherence. I’m confident that Angola can take such a step within a reasonable period of time, hopefully very soon.

Myanmar is another country which I believe has demonstrated a recent interest in following up this issue. They have had some concerns which I have tried to clarify. I will not lose hope that within a process of reappraisal of relations with international organizations and countries, they could see that [accession] is ultimately advantageous for all, including Myanmar.

In the case of Somalia, I believe that many other things have to happen before any government there will be able to focus on ratification.

Then we are left with the other four countries. As for North Korea, I would hope that at some stage, the countries that still have the ability to have contacts and maybe some degree of influence on the policies of that country, that they would pursue relentlessly the idea of encouraging them to join. I think that no country should be given the privilege, the undesirable privilege, of not being under the need to join the convention. Sometimes, I hear about North Korea that this is not a priority, that maybe one day [they would join], let’s not stir the issue so much, let’s focus on the nuclear issue. I don’t think anyone is in doubt about the seriousness and urgency of the nuclear issue but I don’t think that should be a reason for not at the same time presenting the case for the CWC. That would give privilege to North Korea by saying “You are not under the same urgency as others.” It defeats the purpose and the standing of the convention to accept that there might be reasonable reasons for not joining.

And a bit of that also goes for the Middle East. I’m not holding my breath about any of the three countries in the Middle East that are still not members to join any time soon. I do believe that Israel has shown goodwill in being an observer at the OPCW with interest. That in itself will not suffice. It can never replace ratification of the treaty, but I think it is positive in the sense that the signals are, “We are willing to engage.” And it allows the OPCW to present its case directly to the country concerned. I also recognize Israel has enacted internal legislation and an export control regime that is tantamount to the nonproliferation [commitments of] our member states under the treaty. And I value the diplomatic dialogue which we have continued to have, at least throughout the years when I have been director-general.

Something of the same goes to Egypt. We have had a good dialogue. We have also had Egypt participating in some of our activities. I think this also does not replace adherence to the convention but it is a good sign of a will to engage. I also have to recall that Egypt, like all the other countries, has always participated in the consensus resolution in support of the OPCW in the United Nations General Assembly.

In the case of Syria, I value mostly the fact that we have restarted our dialogue, which for two or three years was a bit idling. I had an hour with Syria’s ambassador in the United Nations and he offered me a very good opportunity to advance the case for universality.

But in none of these countries should we be expecting any quick moves. So it will remain a challenge for the organization, and I am absolutely convinced that Ambassador Üzümcü should continue with this matter. I’m sure he is ideally positioned for doing so. I am an optimist that progress will eventually be achieved.

ACT: On the sidelines of the last conference of states-parties, the “Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition,” a new network of nongovernmental organizations [NGOs], was launched. What is your view on how civil society can best support the CWC?

Pfirter: I think [involvement of] civil society in these things, which are subjects of interest to the international community and humanity as a whole, is crucial. It is absolutely legitimate that NGOs take an interest and recognize us as stakeholders on this issue and that we will try and engage them. That is why I have been delighted to support the initiative of Global Green in the United States in the creation of a global coalition in support of the objectives of the convention, most specifically on the issue of universality. I think it’s a brilliant idea. I think the OPCW needs continued support. It is an idea which is inclusive, which helps produce interest across the membership, and we have a very representative rainbow of organizations [participating at the meeting]. So I think that hopefully this will be something the OPCW will continue to recognize and support.

ACT: Thank you very much.



1. See Rose Gordon, “New OPCW Head Appointed,” Arms Control Today, September 2002, p. 20, www.armscontrol.org/act/2002_09/opcw_sept02.

2. See Oliver Meier, “OPCW Chiefs Ponder Chemical Arms Deadlines,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2010, pp. 32-33, www.armscontrol.org/act/2010_01-02/OPCW.

3. See Oliver Meier, “Race is On for New Head of OPCW,” Arms Control Today, September 2009, pp. 31-32, www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_09/OPCW.

4. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) requires states-parties to destroy their chemical weapons by 2007, 10 years after the CWC's entry into force. It is possible to request an extension of this destruction deadline by up to five years, until 2012. The conference of states-parties on December 8, 2006, approved requests for extensions of the final date for the destruction of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles for India, Libya, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Russia and the United States are now obligated to eliminate their stockpiles by April 29, 2012. See Caitlin Harrington, “Chemical Weapons Deadlines Extended,” Arms Control Today,, January/February 2007, pp. 29-30, www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_01-02/CWDeadlines.

5. Article XI promotes trade in chemicals for peaceful purposes and the development of chemistry in all states-parties for purposes not prohibited under the convention.

6. The United States has already announced that it will be unable to meet the April 29, 2012, destruction deadline and there are doubts about Russia’s ability to comply. See Rachel A. Weise, “Russia, U.S. Lag on Chemical Arms Deadline,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2009, pp. 28-29, www.armscontrol.org/act/2009_07-08/chemical_weapons.

7. During its October 13-16 session, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW’s) Executive Council requested its chairperson, Ambassador Jorge Lomónaco Tonda of Mexico, “to engage in informal consultations with interested delegations on how and when to initiate discussion by the Council on issues related to meeting the final extended deadlines for the destruction of chemical weapons and to keep the Council informed of these consultations.” See OPCW Executive Council, “Report of the Fifty-Eighth Session of the Executive Council” EC-58/9, October 16, 2009, p. 5, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_download&fileID=13461.

8. OPCW Conference of States Parties, “Opening Statement by the Director-General to the Conference of the States Parties at its Fourteenth Session” C-14/DG.13, November 30, 2009, p. 26, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_download&fileID=13622.

9. The CWC verification system is based on three “schedules,” or lists of toxic chemicals and their precursors that have been developed and manufactured in the past for military purposes. Schedule 1 consists of chemical warfare agents and precursors that have no significant commercial applications, although they may be synthesized in small quantities for scientific research, pharmaceutical development, or chemical defense. Schedule 2 lists toxic chemicals and precursors that have commercial applications in small quantities. Schedule 3 contains toxic chemicals and precursors that have commercial applications in large quantities. The primary focus of routine inspections of the chemical industry under the CWC is on declared production facilities that manufacture the dual-use chemicals listed in Schedules 2 or 3. In recent years, however, the advent of small, multipurpose chemical-production facilities has made the batch synthesis of organic (carbon-based) compounds more automated and flexible. Such multipurpose plants, which constitute a fraction of the category of Other Chemical Production Facilities (OCPFs), are potentially easier to divert to chemical weapons production than large, inflexible facilities that produce specific scheduled chemicals. As of November 2006, 77 member states had declared a total of 5,225 OCPFs, or more than five times the number of declared facilities that produce Schedule 1, 2, and 3 chemicals. See Jonathan Tucker, “Verifying the Chemical Weapons Ban: Missing Elements,” Arms Control Today,, January/February 2007, pp. 6-13, www.armscontrol.org/act/2007_01-02/Tucker.

10. See Oliver Meier, “CWC Review Conference Avoids Difficult Issues,” Arms Control Today, May 2008, pp. 32-35, www.armscontrol.org/act/2008_05/CWC.

11. Article VI of the CWC gives states-parties the right to maintain toxic chemicals for purposes not prohibited under the convention, including “law enforcement, including domestic riot control.” Whether the CWC permits the development and use for domestic law enforcement purposes of incapacitating agents with long-lasting effects, in addition to riot-control agents with transient effects, such as CS tear gas, is a matter of intense debate.

12. OPCW Conference of States Parties, “Opening Statement by the Director-General to the Conference of the States Parties at Its Fourteenth Session” C-14/DG.13, November 30, 2009, p. 27, http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_download&fileID=13622.

13. The Scientific Advisory Board is a group composed of independent experts who are mandated to assess relevant scientific and technological developments and report on such subjects to the director-general.



Interviewed by Oliver Meier

Pressing a Broad Agenda for Combating Nuclear Dangers: An Interview With Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher



Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina

Ellen Tauscher was sworn in June 27 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Before that, she represented her northern California district for 13 years in the House, where she served on the Armed Services Committee. From 2007, she chaired the panel’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Arms Control Today spoke with Tauscher in her office October 21. The interview covered a range of issues in Tauscher’s portfolio, from strategic arms control to plans for an international fuel bank.

Shortly before the interview, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a high-profile speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace on arms control and nonproliferation. Tauscher and ACT refer to that speech at several points in the interview.

The interview was transcribed by Anna Hood. It has been edited for length and clarity.

ACT: You were recently in Moscow to discuss START, among other issues. On the START follow-on, there are a lot of unresolved issues and not very much time. What in your view are the most difficult issues to resolve?

Tauscher: Well, I’m not going to negotiate with myself, nor am I going to negotiate through the press. Let me just say that we have a very senior team in Geneva. [The Russians] have a very senior team in Geneva. The presidents, President Medvedev and President Obama, have agreed to have a legally binding follow-on to START in place for the expiration of START on midnight of [December] 4. We do have a number of issues to go through. These are complicated treaties, but at the same time, I think we really want to have a treaty that reduces our weapons, increases stability with our friends, the Russian government, and at the same time is working toward our nonproliferation objectives, and I think that we are on a path to go forward. We have a stock-taking at the end of [October] with our team to see where we are on the issues that are perhaps going to have to be raised up to different principals or moved forward in a more expedited way, but it’s our intention to be able to replace the START treaty when it expires.

ACT: And you’re still confident that you’ll have some agreement by December 5?

Tauscher: Well, keep in mind that this is very difficult. This administration came into office, had to get people confirmed, had to step up its engagement and reset our relationship with the Russians. And we think that we have done that in a very quick time frame. But at the same time, there’s no denying that this existing START treaty expires. We are working to get something that we can put into place that meets what the presidents have agreed to. It’s hard to do, but not impossible to do. We’ve got everybody that we need to have on it on it. The Russians have met us with both seniority and expertise on their negotiating side, and we’re pressing ahead.

ACT: Secretary Clinton said in her confirmation hearing that the administration “will seek deep, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, whether deployed or nondeployed, strategic or nonstrategic.” And President Obama said at the UN Security Council meeting in September that the U.S. “will complete a Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] that opens the door to deeper cuts.” Beyond the START follow-on, what will be the administration’s goals for the scope and scale of further reductions?

Tauscher: Well, we are finishing the Nuclear Posture Review that is due toward the end of the year to the Congress. And what’s clear is that we’re working under the scope of strategic offensive weapons in the START treaty and that there is an asymmetry between the United States’ stockpile, both strategic and tactical, and the Russian stockpile. What we’re looking for is a follow-on to the follow-on, where we will begin to deal with those issues. But one treaty at a time. So we’re congruent with what both Secretary Clinton said in her confirmation hearings about moving forward, after we’ve finished with what we’re doing, and certainly with the president’s ambitions too.

ACT: I realize that it’s one treaty at a time, but can you conceptually say where you’d like to get on issues like verification?

Tauscher: Well, let me just say that the underpinning of all of these agreements is verification. There is a level of confidence that is meant to be attained by these agreements. Although it is not trivial to take down weapons, that is not the only piece of this that we’re looking to attain. It is a sense of stability and confidence building, and the way to do that is through verification protocols.

ACT: One of the things that Secretary Clinton talked about that isn’t happening in the START follow-on is verified warhead dismantlement. You seem to be moving from the past, when we looked at monitoring the missiles, to monitoring the actual warheads in the future at some point. Is this something that is envisioned as part of the follow-on to the follow-on?

Tauscher: It is certainly envisioned to be in future opportunities, but, as I said, verification is a piece of what we’re looking for in all future negotiations. It is important, not only in the sense that you move past just the accounting for things and actually have the ability to reassure the two parties, multiple parties, the world community, that we are fulfilling our obligations. The NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] obligations of Article VI of disarmament are defined more than just… “Disarmament,” what does that mean? Does it mean you put it down? Does it mean you put it down, take it apart? Does it mean that you put it down, take it apart, put it on blocks in a garage? Or does that mean you put it down, take it apart, and make sure that you can’t ever use it again? We could disagree. I could tell you I’m disarming, but it could mean that I’m just putting things on blocks in the garage. So we have to have common agreement on what these definitions are, and we have to have verification.

ACT: Are there arrangements in place to continue the verification measures under START after December 5 if there is no treaty in place and in force? How is that going to be handledf

Tauscher: Well, our plan is to find an accommodation to manage, maintain verification protocols in between [expiration of the current treaty and ratification of the new one]. We’ve got lawyers looking at that, we’re talking to our Russian friends about how we do that. But as you can see, we have a significant accent on verification. So the key is how do we maintain it in the absence of a ratified treaty but a legally binding one. So, we’re looking at that.

ACT: Moving now to tactical weapons, how could the United States draw the Russians into a conversation about tactical nuclear weapons? Your adviser Robert Einhorn suggested at a meeting organized by STRATCOM [U.S. Strategic Command] in July that the United States, as an inducement to Russia, “should be prepared to reduce or eliminate the relatively small number of U.S. nuclear weapons that remain in Europe.” Is the United States actively discussing this possibility with its NATO allies?

Tauscher: Well, we are beginning to have conversations because the NPR clearly is an opportunity for us to get in and discuss these and bigger issues, missile defense and other things, with our NATO allies. So I was on the phone with Ambassador [to NATO Ivo] Daalder this morning on how we’re going to manage the narrative, as we call it, of the NPR and what that means for extended deterrence, tactical nuclear weapons, all of that. So we are formulating our positions on these things. We will safely say that there’ll be very large engagement on these issues.

ACT: Do those conversations begin with the assumption that tactical weapons still have a useful military role in Europe or that they are more symbolic weapons?

Tauscher: That’s what the NPR will answer. The narrative of the NPR is a transformational message. While the NPR is a lot about numbers and is about declaratory policy, doctrine, and posture, the narrative of those pieces of it [is] a significant policy statement of this administration. So it is very important that everything is done to prepare what that is. We have an agreement on that inside the Obama administration. Then, once we do that, we can start to begin to have conversations with our friends and allies, interested parties and those to whom we have extended our deterrence. So there is a direct link between what we’re doing in the NPR and these conversations that you have suggested, and there are lots of people that are interested for lots of reasons, and they will become part of the conversation. But we are still in the midst of the NPR review.

ACT: The secretary of state alluded to this subject in her speech this morning. At one point, she talked about providing reassurance to allies in a way that reinforces U.S. nonproliferation objectives. Can you explain what she meant by that and expand on that a little bit?

Tauscher: Part of the NPR is that it’s a policy and political document, and it is meant to articulate how the United States views the uses of nuclear weapons, what that says about the stockpile, what it says about our declaratory policy. But it also is meant to reassure both the people to whom we have extended our deterrence, our allies, [and to] make clear that we are—while the president has articulated a point on the horizon for nuclear zero and while it will take persistence and patience to get there, we may not get there in our lifetime, but we will maintain a credible deterrent, one that is reliable and effective, until the point where we take down our last weapon. So there is a balancing act there.

ACT: At the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] Article XIV conference in September, Secretary Clinton said that the CTBT “is an integral part of our nonproliferation and arms control agenda, and we will work in the months ahead…to seek the advice and consent of the United States Senate to ratify the treaty.” Could you tell us a bit about how the administration plans to win Senate support for ratification and your time frame for that?

Tauscher: The president has set no specific timeline for achieving ratification. The vice president is very involved in the effort to seek ratification. There’s a lot of queuing and sequencing going on. Right now, we’re finishing negotiations on START. START needs to be ratified. In the meantime we’re conducting the Nuclear Posture Review. We’re going to have a [fiscal year 2011] budget submission. There are a number of pieces here that are important to the narrative for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We have been living under the conditions of it since [President George H.W.] Bush.[1] So it’s been a very long time, and we have had advances in Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship. Secretary Clinton [in her October 21 speech] also talked about Stockpile Management and where that fits in. What we have is a commitment by the administration to advance the CTBT.

The CTBT is both about policy and about politics. This administration will not attempt to [seek ratification] unless we believe it can actually pass.[2] So there is a lot about this that is important to informing [the public and Congress] to gain [the Senate’s] advice and consent. Part of it is clearly a domestic campaign, and there is a lot of international interest because of the consequences of United States ratification for those eight Annex II countries,[3] its significance. The whole question of going into force is on the bubble.

From our point of view, we have a plan, but it is one that is about informing and advancing the different parts of the president’s agenda. But we do think that these information data points are very, very key to us getting the narrative right. There is clearly, for many senators, a need to thread the needle, find the sweet spot between the goal of a nuclear zero but the necessity to maintain a secure and reliable and effective stockpile until those conditions for nuclear zero are met. So there’s a need to be doing the things necessary to get to nuclear zero, which includes things that strengthen nonproliferation and the ability to maintain weapons in an effective way. Making those investments in the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] stockpile stewardship management and the [U.S. nuclear weapons] complex itself. Then the things that you’re doing in a multilateral, bilateral way and through treaty obligations, either ones that you build yourself or ones that you have had long relationships with, like the NPT. So you’re doing it almost in a parallel effort. So we have the NPR, which is [expected to be released] in late December, early January, and then you have the February budget submission. There will be a number of senators looking to those two events for the congruity of their quest to be able to support the CTBT.

Now we also have the issue of having to ratify START. In a perfect world, perhaps we wish it was already done. We will go to the Senate for the ratification of [a] START [follow-on]; and then at the same time, we will bring up the conversation and the narrative of CTBT, which leads us into the NPT. We’re hoping, obviously, that on an FMCT [fissile material cutoff treaty], the program of work will go forward in the CD [Conference on Disarmament].[4] We join everyone in requesting that our Pakistani friends protest at the right moment but not now.

As you can see, these are all interrelated and interconnected. Next year is an election year. It’s a shorter year legislatively, so a lot of this is kind of wait-and-see. But we definitely have a plan to go forward.

ACT: If the CTBT is not ratified before the NPT conference, is the administration thinking about any steps short of that to show progress on the test ban in the NPT context?

Tauscher: Yeah, we’re very aware of—I think that part of our delivery in the short term will be the NPR and the budget submission. [We are] laying the groundwork for the support of a supermajority in the Senate, 67 votes—we think we understand where we need to be to attract persuadable senators and certain senators that have voted for it before, persuadable senators who have not voted on it yet. Part of it is also to get START done in a way where we have very good support. The fact is that these are interconnected and interrelated, and we have to do them somewhat in order because of circumstances like START expiring. We [will] have a very, very short window to talk about CTBT. But when we believe that we have the right conditions, we will begin to engage the Senate.

The NAS [National Academy of Sciences] study will be coming out in January-February,[5] so there are a bunch of data points that are coming forward. There are a number of things that we’re looking for to inform the debate and to provide the narrative and to provide the fact base and more current information. It’s been a very, very long time since the Senate considered this. At the time, it was only six and a half, seven years between the [start of the U.S. testing moratorium] and when the Senate considered it in ’99. We had a long record at the time of Stockpile Stewardship and Life Extension Program[s], but now we have 10 more years. You cannot trivialize the success of the Science-Based Stockpile Stewardship Program. But at the same time, I think that you also see that there are a number of senators that are looking for other kinds of reassurances, including what the budget is going to be and the financial commitment and the sustainability. So I think that the NAfS study is going to provide an independent, nonpartisan set of facts that can be used by anyone that wants to be informed on how we should go forward.

ACT: You talked about how the various issues are interrelated and many states around the world see the CTBT as a means to limit qualitative improvements in nuclear arsenals. The president made clear during the campaign that he would “stop the development of new nuclear weapons,” and you, as a member of Congress, were instrumental in defeating an earlier proposal to develop a so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead [RRW]. However, some have suggested that, to maintain the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, the nuclear weapons infrastructure and perhaps some warheads will need to be “modernized.” You were quoted in The Cable September 15 as saying, “I think there are a lot people that still hope for the return of [the] RRW [program] and they are going to be sadly disappointed.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Tauscher: Well, it’s amazing how things happen. It’s like the tree falling in the forest. When I was still chairman of [the] Strategic Forces [Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee] in the winter and spring [of 2008-2009], we built the strategic forces component of the defense authorization bill, which included what’s called Stockpile Management. Let me just step back for a minute. RRW, when it was originally conceived by the [national laboratory] directors, was something that I supported. It was the ability to refurbish classes of weapons without [adding] any capability, changing platform, or requiring testing. It’s a life extension function; it is not to create a new capability or to boost capability or to enhance capability or to create a new weapon. It is to take the existing weapon portfolio and, as needed or required, refurbish that weapon class so that it survives, so that it is part of the stockpile that can give the assurance that Gen. [Kevin] Chilton, as the commander of STRATCOM, needs.

Unfortunately, in the previous administration’s hands, RRW became a new weapon, and it had to go away.

But the capabilities that were originally envisioned in RRW are still necessary. So we brought them back under life extension principles. The other problem RRW had was that it was out by itself. It was on its own. It looked like a whole new thing. Part of the problem was that it looked like an effort as opposed to a tool. So we created something called Stockpile Management, which effectively is the same kinds of abilities, tools under life extension programs, under stockpile stewardship. A tool called Stockpile Management, and the [congressional] authorizers say you can refurbish weapons but you may not refurbish weapons [in a way] that causes a question of certification. You may not use anything that cannot be certified that could cause you to test. You cannot do anything that is going to increase yield, change the characterization of a weapon, or change the platform. We put all these fences around it. That exists now, in the [fiscal year 2010] national defense bill. Until about three or four weeks ago, I still had people saying to me, “Don’t you think we need something to refurbish weapons?” or “Don’t you think we have to find a way to bring RRW back?” I’m saying we did. It’s called Stockpile Management. So they started looking at it, and they said, “Oh.” So we have a way to refurbish weapons.

You know, even Jim Schlesinger in that strategic posture [commission report] says that “modernize” is one of those kind of riddled terms.[6] It makes people ask, “What do you mean by that?” So talking about it has been very difficult for a lot of people because you don’t want to lead people down the RRW path, which is that you’re going to go and build new weapons.

The other thing we killed was RNEP [Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator]. So it wasn’t like [the Bush administration] got accused of this without any history of trying to do this stuff. I think this administration understands that we need a capability to refurbish weapons. But it’s a tool. You don’t go out and refurbish everything.

ACT: Some are concerned that, in the context of Stockpile Management, RRW, by which we mean new designs of warheads that may not have any additional characteristics or military value, will be brought be back under the NPR.

Tauscher: No. No.

ACT: There are these three proposed categories of stockpile maintenance—refurbish, reuse, replace—and the concern is that RRW is the “replace.” Can you tell us if that will be part of the NPR findings?

Tauscher: Well, I cannot speculate because we’re still working on it, but I don’t consider RRW to be anything other than something from the past. As a member of Congress and chairwoman of the subcommittee, I led an effort to kill the RRW. When I kill something, it stays dead.

ACT: President Obama and other members of the administration have argued that U.S. leadership on disarmament is critical to building support for measures to strengthen the NPT at the 2010 review conference. What are your hopes and goals for that conference, and what is the United States doing in the run-up to build support for the outcomes it wants and to deal with the likely challenges?

Tauscher: Well, we have a fabulous presidential envoy, Ambassador Susan Burk, who’s working full time on this. Susan is burning up the phone lines and racking up the miles seeing friends, allies, and others. We have a lot of friends and allies who have been not always cooperative in reaching consensus in the NPT. So we are doing everything we can to deliver a simple message: we need to have a consensus resolution in the NPT [review conference]. We need to understand that there are a number of issues that have become causes célèbres for certain countries in certain regions, and while we believe that those are very, very important, we cannot get stuck in the wickets here. We’ve got to get out and get something done because we don’t help anyone who is for the NPT by not making it stronger. That means delivering on the promise of a consensus resolution. So I think we have a good message, I think she is an amazing messenger, but it takes a lot of work.

We are a new administration that has got a much more, I think, vital vision for these things. I think it’s safe to say that President Obama has spoken more about [these issues] in the nine months [that he has been in office] than perhaps the previous administration did in [its eight years], but this is an issue that requires American leadership. This is the persistence and patience that the president is talking about. We have to give people a chance to know who we are and to know what these kinds of commitments mean. That’s why the secretary of state gave the speech today, [why] we were in Moscow last week. This is really a very, very significant agenda item. Not for once a month, not for once a week, but every day. And every day we’re doing something, and every day we’re trying to build consensus. We’re listening, we’re talking to folks that have had problems in the past reaching consensus, to find a way to satisfy the issues that they’re concerned about so that they will come to where we need them to be.

ACT: In terms of what’s being pursued, is UN Security Council Resolution 1887[7] a sort of a road map?

Tauscher: It was. It was. I meant to tell you that. Yes. 1887 is a road map.

ACT: How is the United States going about implementing it?

Tauscher: It was the beginning step to say that even people that in the past have not agreed can find a way to agree. Part of it is to listen, and so we are taking 1887 on the road, and we’re taking the principles behind that on the road, leading us back to New York in May, back at the UN for the NPT. I think we’re having significant bilateral conversations with countries that have expressed a lot of interest in working toward a consensus.

ACT: One thing the secretary mentioned today was nuclear security and the summit in April.[8] What are the aims and goals there, and how will that play into the work of the NPT review conference?

Tauscher: Well, this is an idea generated by the president; and the president is, I think, sufficiently agitated about the issue of nonproliferation not delivering on what everyone’s hopes are. Even with lots of people saying the right things and even supporting the right things, we live in a very dangerous world. So this is the president’s effort to get, at his level, at the head-of-state level, during just a one-day conference, to bear down on what these things are and to get international agreement on the kinds of efforts that we all have to support.

For too long, responsibilities for the care, custody, and control of nuclear weapons, for nonproliferation, for cooperative agreements, for disarmament, have all been at the feet of the nuclear-weapon states. As the secretary has said, as the president has said, no one can be obviated from responsibility on these issues, everybody has something to do, everybody has responsibilities and things that they have to invest in, pay attention to.

And this whole issue of proliferation security. You could just be a transshipper, you could be completely out of any of the categories, but you have a global strategic situation where you actually might not even know that you are part of global transshipping proliferation regime.

I think part of the opportunity is to have the president say, “We’re doing our part. We’re doing very well, thank you very much.” Not that many people pay attention to the fact that we are disarming. We may not be going as fast as we want or as anyone wants it, but we need to take credit for that. We’re also attempting to deal with [NPT] Article IV considerations on civil nuclear [programs]. But at the same time, as the secretary said today, the right to have nuclear power, which we recognize as a sovereign right, cannot be seized without responsibilities. We’re trying to build international consensus for multilateral fuel banking and the kinds of safeguards and controls and inspections and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] authorities and budgeting that cause us to say, “We don’t really want to worry about that country that perhaps has an immature democracy, or even a immature government, that can’t protect its own borders but wants a nuclear power plant.”

ACT: Are those countries accepting that as part of their responsibilities, or do they see this whole new security push as an added obligation that they’re being asked to assume?

Tauscher: What was made very clear is what this [nuclear security] conference isn’t. It isn’t a donors’ conference, and it’s not meant to overshadow the NPT. We’ve added this fourth pillar [nuclear security] because we believe that it is, unfortunately, what hit us on the head when we turned the corner on the 21st century. Part of it is the vestiges of the old A. Q. Khan network but [also] others, the unnamed networks that we don’t even know about, and the fact that we live in a very integrated world that’s not necessarily interdependent yet.

So there’s a lot of stuff happening that you don’t even know about, that you’re involved in. By either geography or by relationships or by circumstance, countries have got to have this brought up to them. The president decided that he wanted people at his level to understand it. President Obama isn’t the first president to talk about nuclear zero, but he is the first who pointed to a place on the horizon and said, “There it is.” He’s the first one to use his political capital and persuasion so early in his presidency. He’s using his popularity, his policy positions, his persuasiveness on this issue because he believes, he believes—this isn’t something that’s been brought to him—he believes that this is a threat and that it needs to be brought up to the level of heads of state so that they understand that it’s not just the nuclear powers that have these responsibilities; everybody does.

ACT: The United States and other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group [NSG] have been trying to tighten the guidelines on the transfer of sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle technologies, that is, enrichment and reprocessing. In November, the NSG negotiated but failed to approve a draft proposal for criteria-based guidelines that would bar NSG states from transferring those technologies to non-NPT member states, and recently the Group of Eight agreed to adopt that proposal. What is the United States doing within the NSG to get the whole NSG to approve those guidelines?

Tauscher: We’re working with the NSG. We’re also working in the IAEA. We’re on the board of governors; there’s a board meeting [in November]. We want to be able to move forward on a fuel bank. We want there to be a fuel bank stood up. We are looking strongly at supporting the Russian Angarsk facility[9] because we want something up. These are not competing ideas; we don’t want them to be viewed as competing ideas. We want them to be viewed as “Let’s get something going.” So we’re looking to work with our Russian friends; I’ve been working with my counterpart on that. What we’re trying to do is to have people look across the expanse of opportunities and to knit together the things you have to have in order to get solutions to some of these problems.

You have a lot of countries that are critical about the P-5[10] record on disarmament, [saying that] we’re not doing enough. You have a number of countries that believe that the P-5 have denied them their sovereign right to have civilian nuclear power. From our point of view, and as the secretary laid out today, and as I’ve said and as the president’s said, they should not be in conflict. The idea of strong nonproliferation regimes in the NPT, and a number of other initiatives, NTI [Nuclear Threat Initiative],[11] Nunn-Lugar programs, all of the other things the president’s made a commitment to, holding a nuclear security summit in the spring, tying down fissile material within four years, all of these commitments, they are a basket that is porous, with a membrane between them. There’s a lot of things that go in between them, and they don’t contradict each other. It’s important on the civilian nuclear side that we make clear that you can have civilian nuclear power, but there has to be a way to ensure that having civilian nuclear power doesn’t create a proliferation risk.

How do you do that? How do you build international consensus to do that? What are the international regimes that you have to put in place? What are the incentives? How do you make sure that even for those of us who think that they’re climate neutral or even climate enhancing, whatever the reasoning is, how do you make sure that those countries understand that they’re going to have access to the fuel they need and maintain their reactors? We have a very good example in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] 123 agreement [in which the UAE said,] “We’re not going to do any enriching; we’re not going to do any reprocessing”[12]

ACT: What is the current U.S. policy on export of reprocessing and enrichment? There’s been some confusion about this.

Tauscher: None, we don’t do it.

ACT: You mentioned a fuel bank proposal, but that’s run into a lot of opposition. A lot of people had hoped it would be wrapped up by now, but the countries, the ones who would be using the fuel bank, are very suspicious; they see it as a way to deny them the capacity to enrich uranium. They don’t recognize the spread of enrichment as a proliferation concern. How do you address those really fundamental concerns that they have and move forward with this proposal?

Tauscher: Well, I think the truth is, above anything else, nobody can say, “Well, the last time I used that fuel bank, this is what happened to me.” We have to work to educate people, to a certain extent. There are two or three competing proposals right now. I think that in the end there could be one fuel bank, but I think that we need as many of them up and running as possible.

You have to find a way to create that safety and security. We have a 123 agreement with the UAE. Are we going to get other agreements like that? I don’t know, but the key here is to get agreement. That’s why we’re interested in supporting [the proposal for a fuel bank at] Angarsk. Right now, no one knows what would happen if they went to the fuel bank.

But you know part of it is that we have to get some confidence going, especially in countries that are very concerned about their ability to have a reliable bank that they’re going to be able to go to. But you know there’s always a cost for doing business. The bank is there so that there are alternatives to reprocessing and enrichment.

Well, it is the luxury that you don’t have, but what we’re trying to do is to make that luxury too expensive. We’re sin-taxing it. We’re saying, “Hey, if you want to do that, we’re going to make it really, really hard for you because we just really can’t afford to have outliers.” We have to make clear that we support expansion of nuclear power and are prepared to help countries gain access to nuclear energy, but in a safe and economical way that does not increase the risk of proliferation.

ACT: Thank you very much.


1. On September 24, 1992, Congress passed a spending bill that included the Hatfield-Exon-Mitchell amendment, which imposed a moratorium on U.S. nuclear testing. The Bush administration opposed the amendment but signed the bill into law on October 2, 1992. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since September 23, 1992.

2. In 1999, the Senate voted 51-48 against CTBT ratification.

3. Under Annex 2 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force. China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States are the countries that are on that list but have not ratified the treaty.

4. On May 29, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva agreed on a program of work that included the negotiation of a verifiable treaty banning the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Since then, however, the conference was able to make little progress before adjourning for the year in September. The conference will have to adopt a new program of work when it returns next year.

5. The National Academy of Sciences is in the process of updating its 2002 report, Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty. The new report is expected to be completed in early 2010.

6. Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, “America’s Strategic Posture,” 2009, http://media.usip.org/reports/strat_posture_report.pdf.

7. For the text of the resolution, see http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N09/523/74/PDF/N0952374.pdf?OpenElement. See also Cole Harvey, “Nuclear Arms Resolution Passed at UN Summit,” Arms Control Today, October 2009, pp. 22-23.

8. For the text of the speech, as delivered, see www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/10/130806.htm. In the relevant section, Clinton said, “We must continue to strengthen each of the three mutually reinforcing pillars of global nonproliferation—preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting disarmament, and facilitating the peaceful use of nuclear energy. And to those three pillars, we should add a fourth: preventing nuclear terrorism. Stopping terrorists from acquiring the ultimate weapon was not a central preoccupation when the NPT was negotiated, but today, it is, and it must remain at the top of our national security priorities.”

9. Russia has made a proposal to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to establish a fuel bank of two reactor loads of low-enriched uranium at the InternationalUraniumEnrichmentCenter at Angarsk. This proposal is one of several for a fuel bank, which would serve as a backup source of fuel for countries with good nonproliferation credentials. The aim of the fuel bank proposals is to give countries an incentive to refrain from pursuing indigenous uranium-enrichment programs. See Miles Pomper, “Russia Offers to Jump Start IAEA Fuel Bank,” Arms Control Today, October 2007, p. 41; Daniel Horner and Oliver Meier, “Talks on Fuel Bank Stalled at IAEA,” Arms Control Today, October 2009, pp. 24-26.

10. The term “P-5” refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Those countries also are the ones recognized as nuclear-weapon states by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

11. See Horner and Meier, “Talks on Fuel Bank Stalled at IAEA,” pp. 24-26.

12. Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires the United States to have a nuclear cooperation agreement with any country with which it is engaging in nuclear trade. Under the terms of the U.S. “123 agreement” with the United Arab Emirates, the UAE “shall not” pursue an indigenous uranium-enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing program. See Daniel Horner, “U.S., UAE Sign New Nuclear Cooperation Pact,” Arms Control Today, June 2009, pp. 34-35.


Interviewed by Daniel Horner and Tom Z. Collina


Subscribe to RSS - Interviews