24 October 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


With the fast-approaching sunset of a major arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation, impending leadership change in Washington and constant turmoil in global economies, John Mroz, President of the EastWest Institute, today said it was time to “seize this [auspicious] moment”, and take dramatic action to reduce weapons of mass destruction levels.

At a Headquarters press conference, Mr. Mroz was joined by Sergey Kislyak, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States and an expert on weapons of mass destruction; Max Kampelman, former Head of the Delegation of the United States to the US-Soviet Nuclear and Space Arms Negotiations; and General Ved Malik, former Chief of Army Staff of India.  The panel was moderated by Andrew Nagorski, Director of Public Policy at the EastWest Institute.

The discussants were at the United Nations to launch an initiative, designed by the EastWest Institute -- an independent international body focusing on security issues -- to break the logjam in global efforts to control and reduce stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.  The one-day inaugural event, “Seizing the Moment: Breakthrough Measures to Build a New East-West Consensus on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Disarmament”, included participation by former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei.

Asked what would end the logjam, Mr. Kislyak said the Russian Government had been invited to join the initiative by the EastWest Institute, and that the effort was in line with several Russian initiatives.  There had been no lack of commitment to nuclear disarmament in the last 20 years; what was missing was a willingness to work towards that end in a way that was based on the principle of undiminished security, which was enshrined in many United Nations documents.

Mr. Mroz, applauding those who had initiated the idea of a nuclear-free world, said that, in the United States, it was now possible to speak in a serious way about whether nuclear weapons should be completely abolished, an idea that for years had had no credibility in the mainstream.  It also was important that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used today’s opportunity to present a very important policy statement, containing five proposals for the global disarmament agenda.

Asked about why, when relations between the Russian Federation and the United States seemed at their worst point under the current Administration, this was an opportune time to press for change, Mr. Mroz said the assumption was that “we are in a new time”, created in part by the current global economic crisis and upcoming United States presidential elections.  With a new Administration in Washington, there would be new opportunities to make a serious difference on disarmament.

Mr. Kampelman, who clarified that he was not speaking on behalf of the United States Government, said the initiative was put forward by both Democrats and Republicans who understood that the world was seriously in danger.  “It is absolutely essential to forget about partisan politics and begin thinking about human qualities, human requirements,” he stressed.  Today’s session symbolized a developing relationship towards the “goal of zero”.

Mr. Kislyak added that, irrespective of the ups and downs in bilateral relations between the Russian Federation and the United States, nuclear weapon security needed attention from both Governments.  Even with current difficulties, he did not believe relations were returning to those typified by the cold war.

At the same time, the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) between the two countries would expire next year, and his Government wished to see another treaty agreed before its expiration.  That meant extending the process of nuclear disarmament and including defensive capabilities of both sides.  Current differences would not have an immediate impact on the Russian Federation’s interest in the nuclear disarmament process.

Asked about a nuclear-weapon-free zone for the Middle East and whether civilian energy projects in the region would engender a new security arrangement, Mr. Kislyak said his Government had always supported the idea of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East.  The problem was in bringing together all members of the prospective zone.  Anything that would stimulate the debate in the region would certainly be helpful.

General Malik added that regional security was related to global security.  The nuclear weapon issue could not be discussed at the regional level, it must be discussed global level, as they were linked to the major Powers, and all nuclear and non-nuclear States.

Responding to a question on Iran, and moving forward a proposal for international nuclear fuel-enrichment centres without that country’s outward buy-in, Mr. Kislyak said the answer was to make the proposal attractive.  His Government had proposed the idea as a joint venture: a Russian company that would see Iranian management and Russian servicing of centrifuges.  The project would be a “good answer” to any Iranian concern about reliable supply of nuclear material for a legitimate nuclear-power-generation programme.  While Iran had not accepted the idea, it had advanced other versions of the centre for Iranian territory.

In addition, he said, Kazakhstan and Armenia had joined the centre and the Ukraine was considering joining.  The idea was supported by the United States and was part of a package to boost Iran’s cooperation with the world in a productive fashion.

To a question on talks with the United States for post-START treaty, Mr. Kampelman said the task was to bring together eager and influential Governments to deal with the problem in a coordinated effort.  “We are at the early first steps of that coordinated effort,” he said.

Defining the Russian perspective, Mr. Kislyak said the current Treaty provided for significant reductions, and the monitoring and verification of those reductions.  The Treaty was being successfully implemented, and his Government wished, at the minimum, to build on its pertinent elements, with limitations on systems that would threaten either side and coverage of delivery systems.

He explained that there were rules established for such a bilateral arrangement, including accounting rules and limitations on deployments.  Limitations should remain in place; their management had to be negotiated.  Thus far, the sides had not been successful in finding common ground to ensure his Government that there would be, by next year, a treaty that assumed the elements of the current one.

Asked about the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mr. Mroz said photos taken by United States scientists showed that the destruction of facilities had been carried out.

To a query on sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia’s state-run arms exporter, Mr. Kislyak said the move was neither helpful nor lawful.  The United States was trying to impose internal legislation on other countries, which probably would not help relations.  The exporter had been sanctioned for things that were legal under all international standards; supply of systems that were purely defensive in nature.  He saw it as a politically motivated move.

Asked for reactions to the Secretary-General’s recent statement, Mr. Kampelman felt the initiative was quite constructive and important to pursue.

Mr. Kislyak said the statement would lend “good momentum” to reversing the arms race.  In general, today’s initiative was very important in reversing the attitude on arms control.  Arms control lent predictability and increased stability to today’s situation.

Mr. Mroz pointed out that the Secretary-General’s steps could be implemented simultaneously, and a theme of today’s effort was that there were enough resolutions.  It was time for an actionable agenda, and he saw that in the Secretary-General’s proposals.

Mr. Malik noted that the Secretary-General’s “zero weapons” approach was common among States, and his five steps needed more detail, as similar steps had been mentioned by other leaders.

As to whether it was possible to have a “zero option”, Mr. Mroz said his organization was interested in how to use the time today -- “when things are in flux”.  Why not use it to make dramatic disarmament moves, keeping in mind a zero weapons vision?

Rounding out the discussion, Mr. Kislyak said the zero weapons idea was a “visionary notion”; the question was how to get there.  Short of zero, other steps were needed, including a post-START treaty, ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and inclusion of countries, other than the Russian Federation and the United States, in the conversation.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record