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Summit Wraps With Pact to Secure Stockpiles

April 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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For more on the second day of the president's nuclear summit and the movement to cut weapons stockpiles around the world, Jim Lehrer speaks to Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher.

JIM LEHRER: And for more on the summit, we go to Ellen Tauscher, the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. She joins us from the Washington Convention Center, where the summit is being held.

Madam Secretary, welcome.

ELLEN TAUSCHER, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security: Thank you, Jim. How are you?

JIM LEHRER: Just fine.

First, on the issue of Iran, what exactly has the United States and China agreed to when it comes to the next moves on Iran and its nuclear program?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: Well, Jim, I’m not going to go into the details of that, because this is a very comprehensive discussion among many countries, as you know. Secretary Clinton met with the P5-plus-one, which is Germany, last night.

But suffice it to say that the United States reached out its hand. President Obama, as the new president, reached out his hand to the Iranians for what we call the persuasion track to engage, to talk about how we can move forward to prevent and persuade Iran not to build nuclear weapons.

That has not worked. It hasn’t satisfied our concerns, nor has it satisfied the concerns of the region or many countries. The pressure track includes sanctions. And that is an ongoing negotiation that the president is conducting with Secretary Clinton.

JIM LEHRER: But it would be a mistake to suggest that China has agreed to go along with tougher sanctions, correct?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: Well, I think that what is safe to say, Jim, is that it was a very big move for President Hu to be here.

And I understand that he and President Obama had a very lengthy meeting. We will have to see how that has turned out. But it’s very clear that many countries are as concerned as we are about Iran’s recalcitrance to work on the persuasion track and believe that they need to be convinced not to build nuclear weapons.

JIM LEHRER: All right, back to the more formal proceedings here, today’s statement — and President Obama underlined it today in his speech and then, of course, again tonight in the news conference — but what does he mean when he says these countries, 48, 49 countries, have agreed to secure, to essentially lock down their nuclear supplies? What — in four years?

What does that mean?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: Well, the president has a very comprehensive strategy, Jim, that he outlined originally a year ago in Prague. And, today, we have agreement from countries like Chile and Canada and Mexico and the Ukraine to take the highly enriched uranium that is either in their reactors or is in storage, and move it either to the United States and Russia for disposition, and, as the president said, that we have an agreement today that Secretary Clinton signed with the Russians to eliminate 34,000 metric tons of plutonium, which could have made 17,000 weapons.

So, this is an effort the president has made very clear to the 47 heads of state that, whether you’re a nuclear power with nuclear weapons, or you have civilian peaceful nuclear power in your country, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that nuclear material, know-how and technology doesn’t get in the hands of terrorists, and that new states don’t acquire it.

JIM LEHRER: So, this means to prevent the possibility of somebody stealing it, selling it, or giving it away? I mean, is it — does it — all of the above and more?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: It’s all of the above and more.

And, as you saw when the president last week released our nuclear posture review, he’s working very hard to reduce the roles of nuclear weapons for the United States, but, at the same time, make investments to make sure that we have the safest stockpile.

But, in the end, he is very clear that nuclear terrorism is a significant issue and a threat. That is why he brought the 47 heads of state here, to have very cozy conversations with them, and to spend a day-and-a-half on this issue.

These are all very busy people, as is the president. But he believes that this is a singular threat that needs everybody to work together. And these commitments that these countries have made are sizable and really begins to reduce the kinds of stockpiles around the world that could eventually, if not protected, fall into the hands of terrorists and other bad elements.

JIM LEHRER: Well, where — what are the best — the top threats? The loose nukes, so to speak, where — where do they come from? Are they from the old Soviet Union countries or are they from Pakistan? Give me a list.

ELLEN TAUSCHER: Well, I think, Jim, you know, we’re not going to name names.


ELLEN TAUSCHER: But it’s clear that in the — after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan and the other countries worked together to bring their material under control.

But there are lots of countries that have peaceful uses and reactors that need to be protected better. There are countries with radioactive isotopes and other things that need to be protected better. It’s not just nuclear weapons or former nuclear weapons, but it’s the reactors and any kind of nuclear material, and the know-how, and the technology that, when put together, could give terrorists or other bad actors the opportunity to harm innocent people.

JIM LEHRER: And that’s the reason the president said today that the threat of nuclear attack is higher — higher now than it was 20 years ago, when the Cold War ended?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: That’s right.

The president has said this consistently. And I think it’s proven by the intelligence estimates. We have more states now looking to acquire nuclear weapons than we did 15 years ago. And we have a lot more nuclear reactors out there.

And while they don’t have highly enriched uranium that could be used for bomb-making material, they have radioactive material that could be used for dirty bombs. So, it’s important that we understand the context of this.

But it’s a very big agenda. It was wonderful to see the 47 heads of state here. It was wonderful to see the president present so clearly what he believes is an important opportunity to work together. And these agreements, I think, are sizable and significant, and will prove to be creating more security and safety.

JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say, then, that — that things will happen as a result of what happened here these last two days that wouldn’t have happened had there not been this meeting?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: That’s absolutely, positively true.

The president has not only a communique, but — but a work agreement. And every country has signed on to it. Every country has a list of to-dos, so to speak. The people that organized this are called Sherpas. They are either the foreign minister or the ambassador. And they are going to stay in touch.

And the new conference for 2012 has been announced in South Korea. So, this is not a one-time event, where we had one-time deliverables. This is an ongoing thing with significant agreements between heads of state to deliver between now and 2012, when South Korea will host the next nuclear security summit.

JIM LEHRER: What are the procedures for finding out whether or not these 47 countries actually did what they said they would do at this — in this communique today?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: Well, part of it was that we have very strong bilateral relationships and multilateral relationships.

And one of them is with the IAEA. The director general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, was here and was a very big participant in this. So, we have both the multilateral relationships, and we have these commitments that are very direct as deliverables. Plus, we have the IAEA in the middle of it. And they certainly will be involved in monitoring what these promises are.

JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say, Madam Secretary, that there was very little hard negotiating that went on here, that most of these, if not all, of these various leaders came to Washington, along with President Obama, in agreement, and all they come to do was to shake hands and work out the paperwork and issue a communique?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: No, I think that that is missing the point.

I think the truth is, Jim, that, while we had a plenary session with all of these heads of state working together over a day-and-a-half, there were many pull-asides. There were lots of conversations going on between the foreign ministers and the people accompanying the heads of state and the heads of state themselves on a myriad of issues.

This was a unique opportunity in one building to have, in Washington, D.C., 47 heads of state that have many different issues to deal with that are regional, their neighbors they wanted to talk to, or even people across the world that they needed to talk to about many different issues.

So, I would say that there was a lot of activity for the security summit itself. And, certainly, President Obama was in the chair the entire time. But I think that the side action also was tremendously helpful to advance many of the causes that we in the United States believe in.

JIM LEHRER: On the human level, what was the atmosphere? What was the tone like among all these folks?

ELLEN TAUSCHER: Well, I — I was in many of the meetings with Secretary Clinton. And I was able to see the interactions.

And I think that what’s clear is that there was overall appreciation for calling this meeting. I think many of the heads of state believe that this was an issue that was important, but that, until the United States and President Obama put it out there as something that they could discuss and get ramped up on, that it was one of those things that was off to the side.

But I think that, as usual, when somebody like President Obama brings an issue forward, there was a lot of excitement and a lot of appreciation and a lot of commitment. And I think that the meetings that he had himself with heads of state on the side and the meetings with Secretary Clinton will prove to bring benefits to the American people for a very long time.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Secretary Tauscher, thank you very much.

ELLEN TAUSCHER: Thank you, Jim.