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U.S. Counting on Russia as Non-proliferation Partn


U.S. Counting on Russia as Non-proliferation Partner

Sept. 19, Moscow: Amb. Alexander Vershbow to non-proliferation conference

"The United States is counting on Russia to be a partner in non-proliferation and to use its influence to prevent the nuclearization of North Korea and Iran," U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said September 19.

Addressing the Second Moscow International Non-proliferation Conference, Vershbow said the United States "looks to Russia to help convince the North Koreans that there will be no business as usual in Russian-North Korean relations unless Pyongyang accepts complete, irreversible and verifiable elimination of its nuclear weapons program. We also hope that Russia will freeze construction at the Bushehr nuclear power plant [in Iran] and refuse to deliver fuel for it until Iran agrees to sign the Additional Protocol and cooperates fully with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] in implementing it."

Iran in particular Vershbow called "a critical test case" for the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

"It would be a devastating blow to international security and to the non-proliferation regime if Iran were to go nuclear, and the United States seeks to work with all of its partners in non-proliferation to ensure that Iran remains within the NPT," he said.

In addition to discussing the proliferation threats posed by North Korea and Iran, Vershbow described the danger posed by terrorist groups that might acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

"It does not take a lot of imagination to picture the potential for destruction," he said. He went on to call for not only strengthening existing non-proliferation regimes but also seeking "new tools and creative approaches to halt the spread of these dangerous weapons."

"To strengthen the existing regime, we need to increase our political commitment to the NPT, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and deal firmly with countries whose programs today pose serious threats to these treaties," Vershbow said. "More rigorous requirements, supplemented by more rigorous enforcement, offer the best hope for deterring any other party from seeking to acquire or transfer WMD or related technologies."

One new tool the United States is proposing, according to Vershbow, is "preventive interdiction," which he defined as "using existing national and international authorities to detain and search ships, aircraft or vehicles suspected of carrying WMD and missile-related materièl to or from countries of proliferation concern, and to seize any such cargo that might be found."

The U.S. Ambassador also briefly described some current non-proliferation programs on which the United States and Russia are cooperating.

Following is the text of Vershbow's remarks as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)

"Challenges to the Non-Proliferation Regime"

Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation

Second Moscow International Non-proliferation Conference
September 19, 2003

I am deeply honored to have the privilege of speaking before such a distinguished international group as this one. I would like to thank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Policy Studies in Russia for inviting me here to give the U.S. government's perspective today.

This conference is extremely topical, as there is a new sense of urgency to the struggle to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Many countries around the world are seeking to maintain their security amid a growing number of nuclear states. They also recognize the double threat we will face if weapons of mass destruction (WMD) fall into the hands of terrorists. I would like to speak to you today about the challenges to existing non-proliferation regimes, how we might meet them, and the special role that the United States and Russia can play together in the global partnership to prevent proliferation.

Non-proliferation challenges are not only multiple, but also multiplying. Large quantities of weapons-useable nuclear material, chemical agents, biological pathogens, high-risk radiological sources, and the means to turn these materials into deliverable weapons remain inadequately secure against theft or illegal transfer, despite the significant efforts of the past decade. Thousands of former weapons scientists and technicians are making the difficult transition to using their skills in civil, commercial, and research applications. With the greater mobility and lightning-fast communications that we have today, we face a greater threat than ever before from states and terrorists that seek to acquire WMD and have access to the technology and know-how required to make them. In addition, there is a growing threat from states and terrorist groups with access to chemical and biological weapons (CBW). We must even prepare for the possibility that terrorist groups could acquire materials to make radiological devices ("dirty bombs") or primitive nuclear weapons.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) of 1968 remains the cornerstone of the non-proliferation regime. We can draw some satisfaction from the fact that, of the 188 parties to the NPT, most have decided to forego nuclear weapons. South Africa, Brazil and Argentina took the bold step of abandoning nuclear weapons programs entirely. Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus showed great foresight by relinquishing the nuclear weapons left on their territory after the Soviet Union collapsed.

But not all countries have done the right thing, and the NPT regime is showing its weakness. Some countries have failed to abide by the central bargain implicit in the NPT: to renounce permanently any intention of developing nuclear weapons in return for access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. North Korea is the most egregious example: after having been caught cheating, it renounced the NPT and other agreements and has declared its intention to become a nuclear power.

There are good reasons to ask whether Iran is moving down the same road. Iran's policy of deception and delay belies its claims of developing nuclear technology for purely peaceful purposes. In one instance, Iran allowed IAEA inspectors to take samples from a site only after denying them access for months -- sufficient time to clean up the facility in question. Another example involves Iran's changing explanations of its enrichment efforts. Although Iran initially said its enrichment program was entirely indigenous, it changed its story when IAEA inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium in a centrifuge. At that point Iran claimed that it had purchased the equipment abroad and asserted that it had been contaminated by its original owner. Nothing about Iran's behavior is consistent with what one would expect from a state that is fully honoring its NPT obligations. Without the full compliance of all parties, and without a strict verification regime, there is a growing risk that the international confidence that has underpinned the Treaty could be lost. Unless this is corrected, there is a risk it could lead to regional nuclear arms races and destroy the basis for the peaceful sharing of nuclear technology.

In addition to NPT states that fail to fulfill their obligations, terrorist groups and their sponsors are also trying to undermine the regime. The tragic lesson of recent terrorist attacks, such as that in Jakarta last month, is that terrorists are looking for ever more lethal ways to kill increasingly large numbers of innocent civilians and to sow panic and economic chaos. Weapons of mass destruction offer terrorists a tempting means to those ends. It does not take a lot of imagination to picture the potential for destruction. As President Bush and European Union leaders recognized in a joint statement earlier this year, the acquisition of WMD by terrorists "would undermine the foundations of international order."

In the face of these new challenges to the non-proliferation regime, the United States believes the international community cannot simply wring its hands and hope the situation will improve. The gaps in the existing regime that proliferators are exploiting need to be closed. At the same time, we need to face the fact that some countries may be determined to circumvent even the tightest regime, and we also must consider the nightmare scenario in which terrorists succeed in acquiring WMD. To counter these threats to our collective security, we need not only to strengthen existing non-proliferation regimes, but also simultaneously to seek new tools and creative approaches to halt the spread of these dangerous weapons.

To strengthen the existing regime, we need to increase our political commitment to the NPT, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and deal firmly with countries whose programs today pose serious threats to these treaties. More rigorous requirements, supplemented by more rigorous enforcement, offer the best hope for deterring any other party from seeking to acquire or transfer WMD or related technologies. Our experiences with Iran and North Korea show that we must be constantly mindful that an irresponsible party may use its declared peaceful nuclear program to mask the development of a WMD capability.

Iran is a critical test case for the NPT and the international community's ability to give effective enforcement powers to the IAEA. One week ago, the IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution giving Iran until October 31 to prove that it does not have a covert nuclear weapons program. Iran's evasiveness in recent months compels us to ask what Iran is hiding. If its nuclear program were entirely peaceful, as Tehran claims, there would be no need to deceive the inspectors or to delay their inspections. It would be a devastating blow to international security and to the non-proliferation regime if Iran were to go nuclear, and the United States seeks to work with all of its partners in non-proliferation to ensure that Iran remains within the NPT.

Another critical element of the existing non-proliferation regime is strong export controls. Governments should put in place comprehensive controls that meet international standards, enforce them vigorously, and punish severely those who violate national laws. Governments should also have the "catch all" authority to stop the transfer of items not on control lists, as well as to control transits, transshipments, brokering, and intangible technology. To this end, my government is encouraging national governments and supplier organizations, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Zangger Committee, to adopt "catch-all" controls as has been done in the Australia Group.

We need to acknowledge, however, that strengthening the treaties and tightening export controls can only be part of the answer. As some actors may attempt to circumvent any regime, we must find new tools to use against proliferators. One such tool is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) announced by President Bush in Krakow in May. We will be seeking the support of all interested countries for the PSI, including Russia. It focuses on preventive interdiction -- using existing national and international authorities to detain and search ships, aircraft or vehicles suspected of carrying WMD and missile-related materièl to or from countries of proliferation concern, and to seize any such cargo that might be found. This innovative, proactive approach is both an example of my government's multilateral approach to non-proliferation and a bold step toward stopping proliferators.

In addressing non-proliferation challenges, the United States and Russia can and should play leading roles. It is clear that the excellent relationship between Presidents Bush and Putin has put the bilateral relationship on a new footing and enabled our countries to work cooperatively to meet new security threats. The United States and Russia have a shared interest in preventing the spread of WMD, their delivery vehicles, and related technologies and expertise. As founders of most of the key non-proliferation regimes, it is incumbent on us, acting with like-minded others, to combat this threat to everyone's security.

The United States looks to Russia to help convince the North Koreans that there will be no business as usual in Russian-North Korean relations unless Pyongyang accepts complete, irreversible and verifiable elimination of its nuclear weapons program. We also hope that Russia will freeze construction at the Bushehr nuclear power plant and refuse to deliver fuel for it until Iran agrees to sign the Additional Protocol and cooperates fully with the IAEA in implementing it. The United States is counting on Russia to be a partner in non-proliferation and to use its influence to prevent the nuclearization of North Korea and Iran.

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) are working with their Russian counterparts to eliminate strategic offensive arms and their associated infrastructure, to secure at-risk nuclear and radiological materials, and to destroy delivery systems for nuclear weapons. Other Department of Energy efforts in Russia include disposing of excess weapons-grade plutonium, stopping the production of additional quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, disposing of excess highly enriched uranium, and preventing adverse migration of WMD expertise from the former Soviet nuclear weapons complex.

Just as important, DTRA is working jointly with Russian authorities to combat the proliferation of chemical weapons and weapons-applicable biotechnology. The means include securing and destroying chemical weapons stockpiles and production capabilities, securing biological research facilities and strains, employing scientists in non-military fields, and developing detection and treatment capabilities.

I do not think anyone ever doubted the wisdom of longstanding efforts to reduce the threat we all face from WMD. But after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and many other acts of terrorism worldwide, the United States and Russia have made cooperation on non-proliferation an even higher priority. To this end, Secretary of Energy Abraham and Minister of Atomic Energy Rumyantsev, who will both address the conference this evening, agreed in November 2001 to accelerate and expand cooperation related to fissile material security, particularly under the Material Protection, Control and Accounting program.

In closing, let me reiterate that the ever-changing security environment presents serious non-proliferation challenges -- challenges that demand a strong response. We must advance our collective security by bolstering existing non-proliferation regimes and finding effective new ways to detect and prevent proliferation. I hope this conference provides a forum in which you will freely share ideas toward this end. I also hope your discussions here send the clear message that experts from around the world are united in the view that WMD proliferation is the single gravest threat to global security in our time, and that the international community must work tirelessly, and with great resolve, to find all possible measures to eliminate this threat.

Thank you very much and good luck in your work over the next two days.


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