Telephonic Media Briefing on U.S. Participation in the Upcoming Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference

Ambassador Adam Scheinman
Special Representative
Washington, DC
April 16, 2015

MODERATOR: Thank you, and greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Media Engagement. I would like to welcome our callers who have dialed in from across the Asia Pacific. Today, we are joined by Ambassador Adam Scheinman, President Barak Obama’s Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation. Ambassador Scheinman today will discuss U.S. preparation for the upcoming 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference which will be held later this month at the UN headquarters in New York. This is a very important discussion for all of us, and I really appreciate all of you taking your time out of today to participate in the briefing.

Ambassador Scheinman, who will be speaking to us from Washington, D.C., will begin with opening remarks. We will then open it up to your questions. For those reporters participating in the call, please remember to press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up the handset before entering *1. Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 45 minutes. And with that, I will turn it over to Ambassador Scheinman.

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Well, thank you very much. I’m very happy to join the call and to talk about our preparations for the Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT Review Conference, which as was noted starts just later this month on April 27th. The conference runs for a full month in New York at the United Nations. These review conferences take place every five years, and it’s a time when the parties meet and talk about assessments of the performance of the treaty, and we think about ways to strengthen it. So I will make a few points about our approach and how some of this work relates to the Asia Pacific, and then we will turn it over for questions.

So the first point I would note is that the treaty is not a perfect instrument, but it has been enormously successful over its forty-five year period. The treaty is almost universal, with 190 state parties, and it has done its job, which was to prevent the large scale spread of nuclear weapons around the world. It’s the only legal framework that we have requiring the parties with nuclear weapons to work to eliminate them, and it’s the common international basis that we have for dealing with serious challenges to the treaty, as we have in the case of Iran and North Korea. And it’s a framework for ensuring that peaceful nuclear trade isn't used for military programs. We wouldn’t have this framework without the NPT. The treaty faces challenges, but it has proven durable, and it’s the centerpiece of nearly all global efforts to reduce nuclear dangers, whether those are from military programs, or from the civilian use of nuclear energy.

Heading into this review conference, we have a number of goals. Most importantly, we seek to broaden support for all of the Treaty’s three pillars, and that would be work toward nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and ensuring peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And we are going to do that by reinforcing the President’s commitment to work toward a world without nuclear weapons. That is U.S. policy, and we make progress toward that every day as we can. We have made a lot of progress to reduce nuclear weapons in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, even in the last few years. We have a new treaty that is in force now with Russia, the new START Treaty, which has reduced our strategic nuclear weapons to very low levels, levels not seen since the early days of the Cold War, and we want to go farther. We want to negotiate additional cuts with Russia, and we hope Russia will take up this offer soon.

We have also sought progress in other areas relating to nuclear disarmament, including support for nuclear weapon free zones, including one in Southeast Asia, as well as a long overdue treaty which would end production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. We want to see those negotiations to get underway in Geneva. They have been stalled for many years. And we started new activities, including a partnership that we launched just a month ago to explore technology that is needed for future nuclear arms control agreements, and we are very excited about this program.

At the conference, we have a number of other goals. We will encourage very strong support for nuclear safeguards that are run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we will promote in a number of ways, measures that encourage the peaceful use of the atom, whether for energy or for developmental needs. We will certainly want to highlight the number of nuclear challenges, including North Korea’s defiance of the international community and its failure to meet its NPT obligations, compliance problems must be addressed. And we are going to talk a bit about our efforts to bring more financial resources to bear for peaceful uses in the developing world, and we have done this principally through a new initiative that we helped launch in 2010 called the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative. We committed 50 million dollars to the program in 2010, and we hope that this program will continue for another five years, at a minimum. And this is a very useful program to bring urgently needed nuclear techniques to deal with global problems, whether that’s food security, or cancer treatment, or even to deal with the Ebola crisis in Western Africa, lots of good work being done there.

I think all of these activities are important to the region of the Asia Pacific. It’s the region where nuclear power growth is most dynamic; it’s on the rise more than in any other region of the world. So the NPT, I think, is very important to the future of the Asia Pacific, and the assurance that nuclear power will be used in a way that meets the highest standards for safety, and security, and nonproliferation, and that countries that get in the business of pursuing nuclear power have the capacity to regulate it, and do that safely.

So heading into the Review Conference, we know there will be challenges. We are certainly prepared to deal with them. There is some frustration over the pace of nuclear disarmament. There is the unfortunate example that Russia has set with its aggression in Ukraine. Our Arab colleagues would like to see quicker movement toward a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone. So there are tough problems, and we are working very hard to address all of them. And we will continue to do so, whether at the review conference, or in the next five years, heading into the following review conference.

So let me stop there and we can open it for questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Scheinman. We do have one question that has been submitted in advance from Antara News Agency in Indonesia, and the question is, since it was put into effect forty-five years ago, the Non Proliferation Treaty has considerably reduced the number of nuclear warheads in the world, but the treaty is not able to eliminate the remaining warheads for the sake of the world peace. Would you mind elaborating on the next possible and logical steps to eliminate the remaining warheads in order to create a nuclear free world? And also can you talk a little bit more about Indonesia's desire on the rights of every country to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, according to the Article IV of the treaty?

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Sure, thank you. It is very much U.S. policy to work toward a world without nuclear weapons. The President committed to this in 2009, early in his administration, but he also said this is a long road, it won’t be achieved overnight, and we have to work step by step to achieve it. There are certainly things that can be done in the immediate term, even though we have made a huge amount of progress to reduce nuclear arsenals. As I said, we would like to pursue a further negotiated reduction with Russia of strategic weapons. The President said in Berlin in 2013 that we are prepared to negotiate another one third reduction of these forces, that would bring us down to about one thousand each, but there is more that can be done.

We would like to see a fissile material cut-off treaty come into place, which is needed if we are to have confidence that nuclear stockpiles aren’t growing at a time when we are trying to bring them down, and it’s a treaty that would be multilateral. It would deal with all countries in the NPT, and hopefully those outside of the NPT. So it’s a very important foundational agreement. We have been trying to get negotiations moving in Geneva in the Conference on Disarmament, but a number of countries have held that process hostage. We think that’s unfortunate, and we would like to see those talks go forward.

We would like to see a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty in force. We...the United States has not yet ratified this treaty, but it very much remains a priority for the United States, and we are working to build greater familiarity with the treaty in the United States so that there is a better sense for its value as a national security instrument, but also one that would promote international security. So there’s a wide range of things that we can do. We are committed to pursuing them, but the United States can’t do this alone. We need partners, and we hope that others will join us in pursuing additional agreements.

With respect to the use of nuclear power, we very much support the terms of the NPT, which do provide the right for states that forego nuclear weapons to have access to the benefits of nuclear energy. That is a very important point in the NPT, and part of its basic bargain. But it also requires that states meet their nonproliferation obligations, which include verification arrangements in all of their nuclear facilities and over nuclear materials, and that they support the basic norm of not supporting proliferation of nuclear weapons in their country, or in other countries. So countries have the right. We fully acknowledge it, we support it, and we provide resources to ensure the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy are spread to all four corners of the world, but it does require that countries honor their nonproliferation obligations. Countries that don’t, like we find those rights are challenged.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will be from Steve Herman of VOA News. Can we please open his mike?

MEDIA: Yes, good morning from Bangkok. Ambassador, you mentioned North Korea in your opening remarks. I’m just wondering, what do you see as the single largest frustration with the DPRK, as far as their nuclear activities, how concerned you are of what developments have occurred in the past year, and whether there is actually anything at this upcoming month long conference that can be done in a concrete manner to deter or dissuade Pyongyang from moving along with its apparent activities to mount a nuclear weapon atop a ballistic missile?

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Yes, thank you. We are, of course, very much concerned with developments related to nuclear programs and missile programs in North Korea. The North Korean government has commitments that it has made to the rest of the world, both while it was in the Nonproliferation Treaty, and as part of the Six Party Talks process, and a joint statement that was signed in 2005. And those commitments include pursuing meaningful and verified irreversible steps toward denuclearization, that is, to abandon its nuclear programs, and it has not done that. The U.S. position is that we would like to see the diplomatic process succeed, but North Korea needs to come to the table with the attitude that it is prepared to abandon its nuclear programs as it had committed. So the ball is in the North Korean court in that regard.

In terms of what the Review Conference can do, not too much. We can certainly note that North Korea stands apart from its commitments, we can call for North Korea not to take additional actions that would create a more difficult situation in the region by conducting nuclear tests, or further ballistic missile tests, and what have you, and we hope that that type of language would be endorsed by the Review Conference. I would also hope that North Korea would understand that such statements highlight its isolation from the rest of the international community, and that it will rethink its policies and return to a process that will lead to the abandonment of those nuclear programs in North Korea.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Just a reminder that, please press *1 to enter the question queue. Now, our next question is from Yonhap News in Seoul. Please open the mike.

MEDIA: Hello, Ambassador, this is [inaudible] from Seoul. I would like to ask you a few more questions about North Korea. As you said, President Obama has campaigned for a world without nuclear weapons, and in that regard, how much of a challenge do you think North Korea poses to the NPT regime? Also, U.S. military commanders have recently said that North Korea appears to be capable of miniaturizing its nuclear weapons and putting them on long-range missiles. What is your assessment of that? And finally, global powers recently struck a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. What implications do you think this has for North Korea?

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Yes, well thank you very much. You know, the fact that North Korea has pursued nuclear weapons is a challenge to the goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons, and it speaks to the security problems and challenges that will have to be resolved if we are ever to reach our final goal. And we would have to reach that final goal not simply by negotiating agreements, but also by dealing with the security challenges that have given rise to proliferation programs, whether in North Korea or in other parts of the world, in South Asia, perhaps in the Middle East. So it is absolutely essential that the world, if they wish to join with us in pursuing an eventual...the eventual achievement of nuclear disarmament, that pressure be on North Korea to return to compliance with its obligations. If we share that interest, we should all be working very hard to encourage North Korea, through whatever actions, to return to compliance with its obligations.

I have no comment on the issue of intelligence information. I have nothing to add in that regard. And you know, with respect to the Iran agreement, I think it does offer a model, potentially, that other countries can follow. If nothing else, it demonstrates that the path of returning to compliance with the NPT and diplomatic process is one that can lead to agreements on core nonproliferation issues. But every region is different. You cannot simply model the conditions in the talks with Iran and drop them into the case of North Korea. Each has to be dealt with through a diplomatic process that deals with the specifics of the region and of the agreement, and that’s why we hope North Korea will return to the Six Party Talk process.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from China Radio International. Can we please open his mike?

MEDIA: Thank you. Hi Ambassador. This is[Inaudible] from Beijing. On the talks is going to take place next week to discuss the final agreement on Iran’s nuclear issue, and what can we expect from the new talks? Can you explain in that, especially President Obama has allowed the Congress to say no to the Iran nuclear deal, and let Israel and Saudi Arabia have [inaudible] on the deal with Iran could fuel a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. And will these problems affect the talks? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Yes, thank you for your question. I can’t make any predictions, in terms of the prospects for negotiations as they continue with Iran. We simply hope they succeed, because it is an important agreement and it will, if successful, lower the temperature on a very troubling proliferation challenge. So we simply will hope for the best, and those negotiations will continue through June, and as I say, we certainly would hope for a successful outcome.

In terms of what the implications might be for the region, it’s very difficult to speculate as to what may happen, but I am quite certain that the prospects for further proliferation or security challenges in the region would be greater without the agreement than with the agreement. So that is why we will hope for the best.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Okay, our next question is from Kyodo News in Tokyo. And I just want to remind the reporters to limit their questions to one question, due to time constraints. Can we open the Kyodo News mike?

MEDIA: Okay, this is [inaudible] with Kyoto News. We thank you very much, Ambassador, for your precious time. My question would be, what will be your biggest challenge of achieving this year, with results? Five years ago, the [inaudible] Reduction Plan was agreed to by the [inaudible]. It’s sort of a great success. But what will be your biggest challenge or obstacle to maintain this momentum for achieving your goal, a world without nuclear bombs. Thank you very much, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Yes, well thank you. But can I ask, was the question, the challenge of achieving success at the Review Conference or the challenge of achieving a world without nuclear weapons?

MEDIA: I’m sorry, the challenge for success in the upcoming Review Conference. Thank you very much for your clarification, sir.

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: The challenge to a successful Review Conference may depend on your definition of success. The purpose of the Review Conference, ultimately, is to come out of the Review Conference with the treaty intact, hopefully with a strong expression of support to preserve it and to strengthen it, and finally, to have a consensus final document that reflects our shared goals. We may not come out of the conference with a consensus document, and I don’t know that would be a disaster for the treaty, but it is our job to attempt to find a way to reach compromises on a number of key issues that would allow us to achieve consensus, and that is what we will do when we go to the Review Conference. We will certainly go with the attitude and the approach that we can achieve consensus by focusing on shared interests and setting aside our more significant differences.

The big issues that will stand in the way have to do with the pace of nuclear disarmament, with some countries believing that the pace has been too slow, it needs to pick up and additional agreements need to be in place or committed to. And the second issue will have to do with the discussions relating to achievement of a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction. This is a big issue within the NPT process, certainly to our Arab colleagues, who have pushed for progress on this for many years. We had agreed in the last Review Conference in 2010 to at least make a start in this direction, toward a Middle East zone, by having a conference to discuss the establishment of a zone, and at that point, the regional participants could decide how to take the work forward.

We have been unable to hold that conference, in part because it has been very difficult to reach agreement between Israel and the Arab states on the appropriate agenda for that conference. But we have made progress, there have been consultations, and we want to see this conference take place soon. But it will require that we come out of the Review Conference with agreement that we all will try to work toward that goal, which means that this should not be a review conference where Israel is called out for criticism, where the United States is called out for criticism because of the inability to hold the conference. The conference and a Middle East zone really will come down to whether the countries in the region want to work toward it, and that is what we have been trying to do by pulling together a regional conference, and to reach agreement on the agenda.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Just another reminder to press *1 to enter the question queue. Our next question will be from the Wall Street Journal in Seoul, if we can open his mike?

MEDIA: Hello, yes, this is [inaudible] from the Wall Street Journal, calling from Seoul. Thanks for having us today. I was just wondering, I mean, obviously, critics have long argued that the NPT has not been very useful curbing nuclear proliferation or the motivations to acquire them. I was just wondering what your view was on South Korea’s latest intentions to, you know, reprocess nuclear fuel, and how the NPT ensures the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and how this issue will be discussed during the review?

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Yes, thank you. I think the NPT has been very successful and a very useful instrument in curbing nuclear weapons proliferation. The number of countries that have, or are believed to have nuclear weapons today is not any different than it was twenty, thirty years ago. It may even be smaller. That’s not to say that there are not serious challenges to the NPT and to the nonproliferation system. There are, however, major benefits of the NPT, and the role of the NPT in encouraging peaceful uses of nuclear energy has been one of its success stories. There have been roughly two billion dollars provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency just over the last twenty years, to support peaceful uses worldwide. So I think the record is quite successful.

South Korea has been a very strong partner of the United States on nonproliferation, and on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It is one of our largest nuclear energy trading partners, and we certainly appreciate all of the good cooperation that we have. I very much doubt that there will be any specific discussion in the Review Conference about the particular interests or programs of individual countries to pursue fuel cycle activities. I suspect we will deal with it in a more general sense, and we look forward to that debate.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from [inaudible] News in Indonesia. Can we open the mike?

MEDIA: Hello, Ambassador, and good morning in Jakarta time. I’m from [inaudible] News. I just would like to ask about what happened in our country. Well next week, Indonesia will be host of the 60th Commemorative Asian African Conference. While there are some countries, as well, there which have still nuclear weapons, and not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty yet. My question would be, do you expect the issue, I mean the Nonproliferation Treaty will be brought up during the Conference, and if there is any hope from you that finally, the Asia and Africa region will be freed from the nuclear weapon? Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Yes, well thank you. In Africa, there is a regional nuclear weapon free zone treaty in force, and it has protocols that the nuclear weapon states are invited to sign and become parties to. And those protocols provide that the nuclear weapon states won’t use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the regional countries that have agreed to forswear nuclear weapons. So that treaty is in force.

In Asia, there is discussion, of course, involving Indonesia. Well, there is a treaty in place that covers all of the ASEAN countries, the Bangkok Treaty, which provides for a nuclear weapon free zone in Southeast Asia. So in large swaths of territory across the world, the territories and the regions are nuclear weapons free. In other parts of Asia, you have one state, China, which is an acknowledged nuclear weapons state under the Nonproliferation Treaty, and we work very closely with China on discussions related to nonproliferation and the NPT’s arms control and disarmament goals. We have dealt closely with China on a number of agreements, including a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. We have had technical engagement over the years. China would be a participant in discussions on a multilateral fissile cut-off treaty. So there is work that can be done, and we look forward to engaging with all countries, whether Asia, Africa, or other parts of the world that are parties to the NPT.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes in from Asahi Shimbun. They are having a hard time connecting so I will ask the question. How do you see Russia’s annexation of Crimea in violation of the Budapest Memorandum, in terms of non-nuclear weapon states in the Review Conference? Will it have a negative impact on the NPT as a whole?

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Well, the issue of Russia’s violation of the Budapest Memorandum, I am certain, is one that will receive some discussion at the Review Conference. It is very unfortunate in a number of respects, including that by ignoring its, Russia’s, commitments to Ukraine with respect to security assurances, it may weaken the value of these security assurances if they are given in other cases.

The problems, however, between Russia and Ukraine are not those that the Nonproliferation Treaty or the Review Conference can resolve. They really are discussions that will have to take place either through ad hoc mechanisms, as we have seen with our European partners negotiating agreements involving Russia and Ukraine, or through the OSCE, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. I wouldn’t say that there is much that the NPT can do to address Ukraine’s very legitimate concerns.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for two more questions. Our next question will be from Kyodo News in Washington D.C.

MEDIA: Ambassador, thank you for this, for doing this. I know I can ask about Russia, just for a...weeks ago, Putin of Russia said in an interview that he considered putting its nuclear arsenal on alert in the Crimean crisis. So do you have any concerns about these kinds of remarks, and I am wondering whether you have raised your concern to your counterparts in Russia? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Yes, I have no comment to make on Russian statements regarding whether its forces were put on alert. I have nothing to add in that regard. But I would note that while our relations with Russia are certainly difficult in the current period, we do continue to work with Russia, particularly on nonproliferation and security related issues. We were obviously a partner with Russia in the talks on Iran. We worked together to remove chemical weapons from Syria. So as difficult as the current environment has been for U.S. and Russian relations, we have found ways to work together where we have shared interests. And we have a shared interest in promoting a strong nonproliferation regime. Neither of us wish to see the emergence of additional nuclear weapons states anywhere in the world. We have a common interest in working to ensure that terrorist organizations don’t acquire nuclear materials, or even a nuclear weapon. So there is space for cooperation, even in the current environment.

MODERATOR: Thank you. For our final question, we will go back to Seoul from the National Assembly Research Service. Can we please open his mike?

MEDIA: Good morning, Ambassador. [Inaudible] I am from Korea, National Assembly Research Service. My question is about the role of China. Actually, you mentioned that China is one of the global partners in the nonproliferation. So now [inaudible] of China with Korea’s nuclear program. Can you detail on the role of China in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons?

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: Well, we think that China will play a very important role in addressing the North Korean nuclear challenge. We have worked with China over the years to pursue and to bring North Korea into the Six Party Talk framework, and that continues. We have very frequent discussions with China. Our diplomats speak with Chinese diplomats very often on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program and efforts to return North Korea to the diplomatic process, and I can assure you that will continue.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Ambassador Scheinman. Do you have any final words before we close the call?

AMBASSADOR SCHEINMAN: No, I don’t. Very good questions. Thank you all.

MODERATOR: Thank you. I want to thank the participants and all of our callers for participating in today’s call. If you have any questions about the call, please contact me at my email, Thank you, and that concludes today’s call.