30 January 2002
Interview: Key Official Says U.S. Is Committed to Nonproliferation
(Says terrorists must not acquire weapons of mass destruction) (3600)
Washington - The new U.S. assistant secretary of state for
nonproliferation says the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon should be a reminder to the civilized
world that it needs to combat "with every ounce of strength" terrorist
efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD), because if
terrorists possess them "they will use them."
John Wolf told Washington File writer Jacquelyn Porth during a recent
interview that the attacks struck a blow against the world economy
measurable in the thousands of millions of dollars. He noted that the
resulting economic challenges for the United States turned "into a
tidal wave in the developing world," where nations are least capable
of coping with an economic downturn spawned by terrorism.
The extent of physical and economic chaos caused by only four
terrorist-commandeered commercial aircraft makes it chilling to
consider "what would happen if a rogue state or a terrorist group were
to attack with a weapon of mass destruction," Wolf said.
Wolf, who was sworn in to his new post on October 2, said the United
States will strengthen its focus on international nonproliferation
regimes, such as the Missile Technology Control Regime, while new
elements of the Bush administration's nonproliferation strategy are
finalized. But he said that other nations must also help carry the
burden of responsibility by trying to prevent the proliferation of
dangerous weapons and technology.
He also made clear that the United States remains steadfast in its
commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). When nations
ask if the United States is upholding its part of the nuclear
nonproliferation bargain, he said, his answer is: "We sure as heck
are. We are dismantling warheads and we are cutting up delivery
vehicles and we are now going to dramatically slash the numbers of
deployed strategic warheads."
America's commitment to the NPT "is a bedrock, fundamental part of
U.S. national security policy. We are absolutely committed to it and
to its full implementation," he said.
Discussing tensions in South Asia, Wolf said India and Pakistan must
understand that "a race forward toward more missiles and better
nuclear weapons is not the real answer to a stable equilibrium" in the
region. "They are going to have to deal with their problems on a
political level. That's what we hope will happen," he added.
Wolf, who is a career foreign service officer and former U.S.
ambassador to Malaysia and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
forum, also noted that the U.S. hopes to work with Russia to speed up
efforts to protect nuclear materials.
Turning to the Middle East, he said UN weapons inspectors should be
allowed to return to Iraq "today."
Following is a transcript of the Wolf interview:
QUESTION: How have the events of September 11 and their aftermath
created a new sense of urgency with respect to nonproliferation for
those who deal with it in the State Department on a daily basis?
ANSWER: I think that is an important way to characterize it. It
creates a new sense of urgency and a new sense of visibility for an
issue that was very important before September 11. It reminds a wider
audience of the continuum between terrorism and efforts to acquire
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery mechanisms. The
civilized world needs to combat, with every ounce of strength
available to it, any efforts by terrorists to acquire such weapons --
because they have shown, time and again, that they will use them.
The old model of balance of power that existed during the Cold War
does not apply for people who are prepared to be suicide bombers and
to cause massive destruction; they are wanton killers. The seriousness
of this effort certainly resonates with every person in the Bureau of
Nonproliferation, and it registered with me even before I took this
job. I went to a service for the military in September at Catholic
University , which was attended by people from all over Washington,
including some who were survivors or who had lost people during the
Pentagon attack. So the events of September 11 underscored for me, and
I think they underscored for all of us, our responsibility to that
broad community, and you can even take it right down to our own
community or even to a family level. The service I attended certainly
did that for me.
Q: Recently President Bush requested a new comprehensive strategy to
prevent proliferation. How are you involved in that, what are the
elements of that strategy, and when might it be unveiled?
A: The elements are still being worked on but the strategy will deal
with nonproliferation, counter-proliferation and consequence
management and will look at a broad variety of tools that can be
applied. In this administration, nonproliferation policy and
coordination is being chaired at the White House. The National
Security Council is taking the lead, but formulation is part of an
A lot of elements will be wrapped up in a new broad strategy, but we
are not waiting. We don't need the program to know who the players
are. We don't need the cookbook to know what the recipes of success
are, and we have been very active in international regimes like the
MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime), the Australia Group, the
Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export
Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technology in
terms of accelerating their work.
We're working on strengthening the IAEA's (International Atomic Energy
Agency) capabilities on safeguards to prevent nuclear terrorism. We
have a whole set of policies vis-à-vis the nuclear Materials,
Protection, Control and Accounting (MPC & A) program in Russia, and we
are working to compress the time needed to accomplish the program's
objectives. We are going to do it faster, we hope, by a significant
margin, depending on the Russians.
We have a series of things we are doing on plutonium disposition with
Russian plutonium production reactors. We have a new fix to safeguard
300 tons of spent fuel including three tons of pure plutonium in
We have an aggressive set of initiatives under way on export controls,
including in Central Asia where we are using supplemental funds for
individual country plans. We have a bio-warfare initiative that will
complement those that we previewed at the fifth Biological Weapons
Review Conference (in November). We shortly will preview with allies a
series of BW countermeasures dealing with some of the domestic and
international trade issues both in terms of practices and equipment.
These are things that are moving forward. And there will be more to
Then we will have to court Congress to provide the increased funds
that the United States needs, and we will also expect our allies and
friends to pony up more than they have heretofore. The countries where
nonproliferation is a problem will also have to take on some of the
Q: What are your top policy and program priorities as the newly
installed assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation?
A: Getting a handle on plutonium -- what exists out there. We want to
protect what exists and stop the production of weapons-grade material
that is still being produced. We want to safeguard plutonium and
highly enriched uranium. We want to move down the food chain.
We need to initiate and implement a rigorous set of measures aimed at
biological and chemical weapons trafficking and capabilities. We need
to pay close attention to issues in South Asia. We need to augment
export controls. We need to strengthen some of the international
regimes as well as measures that we do bilaterally.
Q: The U.S. and Russia passed a key milestone in December 2001 when
the level of strategic nuclear weapons on both sides dropped to 6,000,
fulfilling obligations imposed by the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction
Talks. What does this say about America's commitment to nuclear
nonproliferation and do you think enough attention has been given to
A: I think it is more important that Presidents Bush and Putin have
signaled their intention to further cut the number of deployed
strategic warheads and to do it in a concerted and quick fashion.
When countries look and ask whether the United States is upholding its
part of the nuclear nonproliferation bargain, the answer is: we sure
as heck are. We are dismantling warheads and we are cutting up
delivery vehicles and we are now going to dramatically slash the
number of strategic warheads.
It's good to achieve the December milestone, but the big news is the
Bush-Putin announcements made in Crawford, Texas about what we intend
to do. [The U.S. is planning to draw down its deployed weapons to a
level of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads, and Russia to around 1,500 to
So if you are asking how does that reflect on our nonproliferation
priorities - we are upholding our commitment under the NPT (Nuclear
Q: Does the U.S. plan to reaffirm the importance of the NPT in any
fundamental way in the coming year?
A: We have done it and we will continue to do so. It is a bedrock,
fundamental part of U.S. national security policy. We are absolutely
committed to it and to its full implementation.
Q: The U.S. has publicly identified Iraq and North Korea as
proliferators. What are your particular concerns with each of them and
what has the United States asked our allies and friends to do with
respect to these two countries?
A: Well, they're not the only ones. While we often talk about Iraq and
North Korea, the Central Intelligence Agency does a semi-annual report
and you can look at that and see the concerns we have about Libya,
Syria, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, Russia, and probably some
others as well, in different categories -- whether missiles or
chemical or biological capabilities or in their nuclear weapons
aspirations. There are clear worries out there about members of this
subset, and we have made known to Russia and China our concerns about
their contributions to the capabilities of various countries. In North
Korea, we are worried about its WMD program as well as its exports to
other countries that are developing WMD programs and their delivery
Q: Do you think there will be any solution to Iraq's continued failure
to adhere to United Nations resolutions allowing UN weapons inspectors
unfettered access to suspect sites?
A: Our policy is very clear; it's not just our policy, it's the
world's policy that dates back to 1991. UN Resolution 687 was
unequivocal. I was there; I helped formulate it. Those obligations are
not voluntary; they are mandatory. And the world is insistent. I think
Resolution 1382 on the Iraqi Oil-For-Food program is a reaffirmation
of a solid consensus of the UN Security Council that we want those
monitors back; they should be back today.
Q: Is the absence of such inspections any indication of failed
A: No, it is a clear reflection of Iraq's flouting of international
law. It reflects Iraqi efforts to reconstitute part or all of its
weapons of mass destruction program. It is a challenge to the
international community. It is a risk not only to the region but also
to the broader international community.
Having said that, we think it is important for the UN Security Council
to put into place the Goods Review List [indicating which goods
imported by Iraq will still require UN review] because our concern is
precisely about Iraq's violation of the military aspects of Resolution
687. We are determined to remove, for humanitarian reasons, the
encumbrances that some believe affect the supply of goods to the Iraqi
civil economy. They shouldn't be there. [Once the Goods Review List is
in place, regular civilian commercial goods not on the list may be
imported freely, without review.]
The onus is really on Saddam Hussein now. But there is a perception
that somehow there is a blockage in the passage of the Goods Review
List. It has to be made clear that any failure to get goods into the
civil economy is the responsibility of the government of Iraq. That's
the circumstance now, and the passage of the Goods Review List will
make clear that that's the case.
Q: With President Bush's announced intention to withdraw from the 1972
ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) by summer, some critics are
accusing the U.S. of paving the way for the proliferation of weapons
in space. How can the U.S. act to defend itself, on the one hand,
without raising the prospect of a race to weaponize space on the
A: The President has made clear that we need a defensive capability
that is able to deal with the risk that comes from rogue states or
terrorist groups possessing weapons of mass destruction and delivery
vehicles. And frankly, after September 11 it should be clear that if
they've got them, then they will use them. U.S. deployment of a
missile defense system is like buying an insurance policy.
September 11 struck a blow against the world economy that can be
measured in terms of hundreds of billions of dollars - maybe more. And
actually the damage is most severe against those that are least
capable of enduring it: the developing nations. Our economic problems
turn into a tidal wave in the developing world -- not our doing, but
as a consequence of the lack of demand within the developing
So if you realize that four aircraft crashing into three buildings in
New York and Virginia and the Pennsylvania woods can cause that - just
think what would happen if a rogue state or a terrorist group were to
attack with a weapon of mass destruction. That's why a defensive
capability against such a circumstance is a pretty reasonable idea.
Q: The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has
suggested that the administration's announced intention to withdraw
from the ABM Treaty may put pressure on China to produce additional
nuclear weapons, and that in turn may place pressure on India and
Pakistan to develop further weapons. What do you think will be the
short and long-term effects?
A: In the absence of facts one can say a number of things. In point of
fact, China is already building more missiles, but our defensive
missile capability is not aimed at China and it's not aimed at Russia,
it is aimed at rogue states.
And India and Pakistan have to understand that a race forward toward
more missiles and better nuclear weapons is not the real answer to a
stable equilibrium in South Asia. They are going to have to deal with
their problems on a political level. That's what we hope will happen.
Q: One aspect of U.S. non-proliferation policy, as you mentioned
earlier, has been to help Russia ensure physical security for its NBC
(Nuclear, Chemical and Biological) systems and to assist in
dismantling efforts. What is the status of that politically and
fiscally, and where is it going?
A: We are accelerating our efforts. We are working on a variety things
regarding plutonium disposition.
Q: Disposition in a new way?
A: We are working on plutonium disposition, with more news on that
subject coming in the near future. We're working on closing down
plutonium production reactors. We're increasing our efforts on
material protection, control and accounting (the MPC & A program). We
are increasing our efforts under the International Science and
Technology Centers as well as bio-redirection programs. The Defense
Department does a variety of things that are continuing to break up
missiles for Russian weapons disposal.
Q: Is the subject of curbing nuclear smuggling on your agenda with
A: Our hope with the MPC & A program is to consolidate things that go
bang -- fissile material-- into safer storage areas. It's not the
whole answer, but it's part of the answer, along with better export
controls and better monitoring of borders, and better training of
border officials. All those are part of an ongoing agenda.
As best we can tell, and you don't know what you don't know, a lot of
the stories about nuclear smuggling really involve scams. People are
selling depleted uranium cases or low enriched uranium and passing it
off as weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. That's not to say that
there is any room for complacency, quite the contrary. We need to do
more and we need to do it better and faster with cooperation from the
Russians as well as other neighboring countries.
Q: Are you seeing receptivity to the U.S. desire for better export
A: Yes, especially in the area of export controls we've had good
success with Russia and with the NIS (Newly Independent States)
countries, and we are expanding this.
Q: With negotiations to strengthen the 1972 Biological Weapons
Convention (BWC) suspended for a year, how do you expect the U.S. will
work with friends and allies to attempt to bridge the gap between the
U.S. position on how to improve it and that of other delegations?
A: We are going to work with them. And we have a number of ideas that
we expect to discuss with our friends and others on things relating to
trafficking -- bilaterally and multilaterally. Some of those ideas
will be a complement to the measures described at the BWC Review
Conference in Geneva. So there is a whole package of ideas, and you
may find that in all of that it creates a common international sense
Meanwhile, you've got to get the substance right. So we're working on
substance. Form ought to derive from the substance and not the
substance from the form. We have to organize to accomplish real things
as opposed to meeting to meet. In this administration, we like to know
we are doing something real that can be accomplished rather than just
meeting to talk.
Q: Does the U.S. harbor concerns about further Indian and Pakistani
nuclear ambitions, or are they seen as responsible powers?
A: They have these weapons and we have to deal with it, but we still
have a series of concerns about nuclear weapons, their delivery
capabilities and the risks of proliferation in South Asia.
Q: What will be on your agenda with the Israelis?
A: We'll probably talk about proliferation issues in the region around
Israel. There is a lot that is going on.
Q: How would you gauge U.S. concerns about Iranian proliferation
A: They are a threat to our friends in the region and they are a real
threat to U.S. armed forces that are located adjacent to the region --
and not just to our military forces, but to those of other NATO
Q: How would you like to see the IAEA's (International Atomic Energy
Agency) nuclear inspection system strengthened and how likely is it to
occur any time soon?
A: IAEA safeguard responsibilities are a fundamentally important
part of the NPT and of the world's efforts to protect fissile material
and to develop civil nuclear power programs in a responsible way. A
country's obligations under the NPT, and in some ways the IAEA's
responsibilities, can be described therefore as statutory - they are
not voluntary. So I guess we worry that IAEA's budget has not enabled
it to continue to grow at the same rate as nuclear development.
We think that the IAEA is doing a good job, and we think the situation
is still in hand, but the agency is going to have to grow as the
nuclear business expands and as more countries adopt additional
protocols. IAEA responsibilities are going to grow even more than they
have in the last 8 to 10 years. So we want to be sure that the IAEA
continues to have rigorous and comprehensive safeguards and continues
to reassure the world community that programs are safe and that
apparently peaceful programs are not somehow concealing covert moves
toward nuclear weapons capabilities.
The lesson of Iraq and North Korea should be sobering to all of us.
North Korea was a party to the NPT and it had IAEA safeguards and
nonetheless was developing a nuclear weapons capability prior to the
1994 Agreed Framework pact between the United States and the
Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea; ditto for Iraq prior to the Gulf
Q: Is there a segment of thought within the administration that
formal, international treaties to thwart the proliferation of weapons
of mass destruction are somewhat passe?
A: No. We are going to be vigorous. We put aside ones that we didn't
think could be successful or which put at risk U.S. vital national
interests. We are members in good standing of the NPT, BWC and CWC
(Chemical Weapons Convention) as well as international arms control
regimes like the MTCR, the Australia Group, the NSG, and Wassenaar
that advance nonproliferation objectives and help ensure a safer world
with less risk from weapons of mass destruction and their delivery
It would be nice to say we were stopping the trafficking, but it goes
on. But we are making a dent and clearly we are going to try and make
a much bigger dent through increased bilateral and multilateral
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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