PRESS CONFERENCE ON TREATY ON NON-PROLIFERATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
“The United States could not preach temperance from a barstool”, United States Congressman Ed Markey said yesterday at a Headquarters press conference, referring to the United States’ interest in developing a nuclear “bunker-buster” weapon while seeking to suppress the nuclear threat elsewhere in Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
At a late-day press conference in the midst of the month-long Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), ongoing in New York through 27 May, Mr. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts first elected to Congress in 1976, said that the major energy bill that recently passed the House of Representatives lifted a 30-year ban on reprocessing of nuclear materials. “This is not the time for the United States to be sending a signal that we’re getting back into the business of nuclear reprocessing as we’re trying to convince other countries in the world, again, to disavow interest.”
Mr. Markey, currently co-chair of the congressional bipartisan task force on non-proliferation, added, “I am very worried that the United States, that the Bush Administration, does not understand how important this Treaty is.” He was afraid that if some bridge was not created for dealing with non-proliferation within the context of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that could lead to an escalation in clandestine programmes around the world by States and non-States. “This is our last best hope -- the United Nations”, he said. That was why he was here today.
Joining the Congressman was Hans Blix, former head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA and current Chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission launched by the Swedish Government in December 2003 to investigate ways of reducing the dangers from nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons.
The press conference was sponsored by the Global Security Institute and moderated by its President, Jonathan Granoff. Founded in 1999 by United States Senator Alan Cranston, the Institute is dedicated to strengthening global cooperation based on the rule of law, with a particular focus on nuclear arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament.
Mr. Blix said he was less pessimistic about the consequences of failure of the Conference, but clearly there was unease, a feeling that the common edifice built over the last years was not being taken seriously. The possible development by the United States of bunker busting or testing was a unilateral policy made without care for the joint effort made in the past.
He added that the NPT was not only about significant reductions on the part of nuclear-weapon States. Most of the countries in the non-aligned group and other non-nuclear-weapon States group felt that the NPT was a common international endeavour to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons. It was important to focus on the problems that needed fixing, but also important was to bring to the Conference a sense of proportion. There had been great successes under the Treaty in terms of the number of adherences, including by States about which there were doubts that they would join –- Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Those countries also had nuclear weapons removed from their States.
It was also a great success that Brazil and Argentina first set up their own cooperative agreement on nuclear power, ratified the Tlatelolco Treaty and then ratified the NPT, he said. There were many other States about which there were doubts about their joining, such as Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Viet Nam and South Korea. Those countries were important to the Treaty. So, it was not just about countries not able to make weapons or those who, out of some innate goodness, would join the NPT, but there were great gains in the vast numbers of States.
He recognized, however, that there were concerns, first about Iraq, which cheated in 1990 and was found out, and Libya, which also violated the agreement and used Mr. Khan’s network to buy nuclear technology, enrichment technology and nuclear weapons design. Now, those two cases -- Iraq and Libya -- had been processed, but the concerns persist about North Korea and Iran. There was also acute concern among the non-aligned States and developing countries and other non-nuclear-weapon States that the United States, and perhaps some other nuclear-weapon States, were not taking the common bargaining as seriously as they had committed themselves to do in the past and that they were abandoning the common effort in place for so many years.
Elaborating, he said that the 13 steps agreed in 2000 had been described as coming from another era, and no longer relevant. There was also concern about the construction of new types of nuclear weapons, the bunker busters, and about people in Washington who wanted to continue testing nuclear weapons. So, there was a feeling that that was an abandonment of the joint endeavour. John Bolton – recently nominated to represent the United States at the United Nations -- says there was no international law in that regard and that treaties were not really binding, but policy commitments could be followed only as long as one wanted.
That, however, did not reduce the need to search for what could be done, he said. Among the non-nuclear-weapon States, there was a lot of discussion about what could be done, such as the use of the Additional Protocols of the IAEA, especially given that earlier inspections had been insufficient. There was also the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which would allow States to intercept ships on the high seas. There was not much resistance to that, nor was there a great deal of enthusiasm, however. The amount of plutonium needed to build one nuclear weapon was about the size of his hand, so intercepting ships on the high seas was not a major way to prevent proliferation.
He cited other proposals, including that there should be no new enrichment of fuel cycle facilities in new States, or none at all, such as a moratorium -– the proposals varied somewhat. However, his reading of the attitudes of many non-nuclear-weapon States was that they did not feel that that could really entice and induce Iran and North Korea to abandon the reprocessing, or in the case of Iran, enrichment. It seemed like the generals fighting the last war: North Korea had been reprocessing for a long time and was now going for enrichment, it said, and the Iranians were going to enrichment and had centrifuge technology, and now that some wanted to stop that, it was being proposed that that should be abandoned for the whole world or for a number of years.
Both cases needed tailor-made solutions, he stressed. The North Korean and Iranian problems were very significant, indeed. It would be a very serious setback if North Korea detonated a device and if the Iranians moved towards a weapon. Part of the solution lay in security. There were many other factors than the security of States that led them to nuclear weapons and many other factors preventing them from nuclear weapons. But, security was certainly one of them. Colin Powell had indicated that his country could cater to the North Korean request for security. In fact, North Korea had asked for a non-aggression pact with the United States.
As for reprocessing and enrichment, maybe one could make use of the idea of ending or postponing or freezing enrichment and reprocessing in a tailor-made fashion for the North and South Koreans, and for the Middle East. Between North and South Korea, there was an agreement in the early 1990s that would have excluded enrichment and reprocessing, as he understood it. And, in the Middle East, for a long time there had been an understanding that there should be a nuclear-weapon-free zone. However, it was also known that, under the current political circumstances, that was not realistic. But, both Israel and Iran and others had wanted to go in that direction. It might be possible to have an agreement among a number of countries that there would be no reprocessing and no enrichment in the Middle East. That would be a step towards such a zone and would also stop further development, presently, of Iran’s enrichment.
Congressmen Markey recalled the “big moment” in 2003 when the United Nations and the inspections regime in Iraq had been challenged. He said he had voted for the resolution in the United States Congress to give the President the authority to go to the United Nations and make his case for resumed inspections in Iraq, after an absence for some four years. When the United Nations responded, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei had within their power the ability to go over terrain that had been suggested would pose a real threat, in terms of Iraq’s neighbours, the United States and the rest of world.
He said that by 18 March 2003 it was clear that the inspections regime, while not completed, was working, and that there was no evidence for an active “WMD” programme in the country. If, at that point, President Bush had declared that the United Nations, the IAEA and the inspections team had been a success and had asked for more time to complete the process of ensuring Saddam’s disarmament, then he could have kept the coalition together, and turned to North Korea and Iran then, more than two years ago, with a united coalition, under the United Nations’ banner, asking for full compliance. Instead, the President decided to kick out the inspectors and begin a war. It took until September 2004 for the Duelfer report to confirm what ElBaradei and Blix had been saying 18 months earlier, but that conclusive evidence “unfortunately hangs over this Conference –- it is whether or not we’re going to try to knit back together again a coalition that had been successful in Iraq and could be successful in these other countries”.
He said that the history could not be ignored, adding that it was a huge challenge for the Conference. Russian Federation President Putin continued on a path of selling nuclear materials to Iran. The United States did not fully walk away from the promised sale of two nuclear power plants to North Korea. Now, the world needed to deal realistically with the threat that posed, and only by making the NPT stronger was there a chance in the future to avoid that catastrophic event, which no sane person wanted to ever have occurred in the world.
Similarly, the United States Administration should sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) to make clear that it did not intend to test a new generation of nuclear weapons and would abide by a permanent nuclear testing ban, he said. That was an important statement, in light of the fact that it feared an imminent nuclear test by North Korea.
Along with lifting the ban on reprocessing, the energy bill also lifted the ban on the transfer of highly enriched uranium out of the United States to other countries, even if that country was not promising to convert their programme to low-enriched uranium, he said. Those proposals undermined United States’ credibility and made it more difficult for it to bridge that gap that existed with countries that were still non-weapon States. It also made it more difficult to reach an agreed agenda at the Conference.
He said he had come to the press conference, in particular, to pay tribute to Blix and ElBaradei, who had been correct in their assessment of Iraq and in asking for more time. A new security system was needed whereby countries given access to nuclear material must put that material under international control, he said. In the case of a unilateral withdrawal, such as North Korea’s, the country could not benefit from a betrayal of the NPT. The Treaty could not be used to advance a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. That was the central agenda to be advanced here.
It would help if the United States and the Russian Federation would comply with the other part of the bargain, rather than the United States, especially, leading a new round of potential nuclear weapons development, he said. In the end, that really had no use, because the United States was never going to use a nuclear bunker-buster. It could not use a nuclear weapon, especially against an enemy that did not have one. If the United States ever had to respond to a nuclear attack, it certainly would not respond with nuclear bunker-busters. So, it made no sense whatsoever to have that new generation of nuclear weapons, which flew right in the face of the NPT agreement, he stressed.
Responding for a request for more details about a tailor-made agreement for the Middle East, Mr. Blix explained that proposals to stop reprocessing enrichment globally might be applied regionally. So, in the Middle East, for example, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia could commit themselves not to go for enrichment or reprocessing. In the case of Israel and Iran, for example, it had been proposed in the past that Israel should take steps to put its bombs under safeguards, as a gesture of good will, but Israel was extremely interested in having Iran refrain from reprocessing or enrichment.
In the case of North and South Korea, he said that had been part of an agreement between them in the early 1990s, so it would be a question of reviving that. He reiterated that, in the case of Iran and North Korea, tailor-made solutions were needed. If North Korea and Iran heard threats being brandished frequently, perhaps they would run faster towards nuclear weapons capability, rather than doing away with it, he replied to a related question.
An important factor was the feeling of security, he added. Those countries might feel that the United States would not attack them if they had nuclear weapons. It would be more constructive for the United States to say it would guarantee not to attack them if they did away with nuclear weapons, rather than saying it would attack them if they had those arms. There were no immediate plans to attack Iran, but everyone was hearing that all the options were on the table, so he did not think that possibility was excluded at all.
Mr. Blix said that the United States might find it unappetizing to make a kind of written guarantee to Iran in view of how it saw that regime, but one could go back to the United Nations Charter -- to Article 2, paragraph 4 -- which said that countries should not use or threaten to use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another State.
Again, Mr. Markey stressed, had the United States not invaded Iraq, it would be on stronger ground. It was caught in a conundrum -- “we invaded the country that did not have nuclear weapons and have done nothing with the two that have nuclear weapons”, he said, adding, “at this point, the United States has got itself backwards”.
Asked whether Mr. Bolton or anyone in his office pressured Mr. Blix to report on his findings in a way that was not supported by the facts, Mr. Blix said that the United States Assistant Secretary of State had come to him and tried, in a fairly rough manner, to persuade him that he should come out and say that the UAV’s, which the Iraqis were putting together, were there for possible dissemination of chemical and biological weapons. Also, the Assistant Secretary had pictures of some rusty weapons and he thrust them at Mr. Blix across the table, but when Mr. Blix asked him where the pictures had come from, he said he would not reveal the source. “I resented that”, he said.
Another correspondent recalled an assessment of ElBaradei’s that the United States was not getting involved in the process of dialogue at all with Iran. Mr. Blix said that the United States had said it would be in favour of some of the items the Europeans had put on the table, including possible support for Iran’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). He had not personally seen anything about the question of security guarantees, and that always entered into it. In addition, pride had not been discussed. India had had pride over its nuclear explosion. When people wondered why Iran should be proud of nuclear power when they had oil -- well, that was a colonialist argument. He did not subscribe to the argument that Iran had oil and, therefore, should not have nuclear power. Iranians would want to develop nuclear power, but he was also suspicious of their intentions because they had done some things clandestinely. They should stop any enrichment and reprocessing “to calm the world”.
He replied to another question that there was “no chance” that India would walk away from nuclear weapons. Even the United States was abandoning its earlier position that it would not sell nuclear plants to India. India would not walk away from nuclear weapons until the nuclear-weapon States did.
Was there any double standard in the United States’ treatment of the Iranian programme and the Israeli programme? another correspondent asked. And, after having used atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how could the United States put pressure on countries like North Korea and Iran not to develop nuclear weapons?
Mr. Blix said that, for a long time, Iran had been supportive of the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Politically, that was the way to go. While it was not politically feasible at present, one should move in that direction and not away from it. It would be wise for Iran not to move on to enrichment. But, it would be easier for Iran to resist that if Israel also abandoned reprocessing and enrichment. Some in Iran would like to come much closer to the nuclear option to show they had mastered the technology, while others would like to actually manufacture the weapons.
The head of the Global Security Institute, Mr. Granoff, explained that United States Congressman Curt Weldon had been unavoidably detained by a delayed train to New York this evening. He had hoped for the two legislators’ divergent views to have been expressed at the press conference. In his own closing remarks to correspondents, Mr. Granoff said that if the Treaty “fails or frays”, that would be akin to passing on an unsustainable future to our children.
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