DeSutter: Iran, DPRK Pose Unresolved Nonproliferation Threats
Says U.S. wants to make WMD trade difficult, unprofitable
The disregard that North Korea and Iran have shown for their obligations under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has "created a crossroads for the international community," according to a State Department arms control official.
The United States is committed to strengthening both the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) so that other states cannot use the NPT "as cover for their nuclear weapons program," Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter said March 7.
A transcript of DeSutter's remarks was released by the State Department March 18.
U.S. government officials long ago concluded that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program, DeSutter told a group of nonproliferation experts recently, but they were limited in what they could say publicly because most of their knowledge "came from sensitive intelligence sources."
Addressing a conference associated with the private, Washington-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, DeSutter said the way in which the IAEA Board of Governors decides to deal with Iran "now constitutes one of the most important challenges facing the nonproliferation regime today."
Among other things, Iran should "come clean to the international community, honor its (nuclear) safeguards and NPT obligations, (and) implement the (IAEA) Additional Protocol," she said.
"How we deal with Iran at the IAEA will be a precedent when dealing with other nuclear proliferators and violators of their safeguards agreements or the Non-Proliferation Treaty, itself," she said. Therefore, DeSutter said, it is important to continue considering Iran "not just as a single, specific regional problem, but as a challenge" to the NPT regime. DeSutter also said North Korea "poses a challenge to the nonproliferation regime as a whole."
"Solutions that might seem appealing as a case-specific fix," the assistant secretary said, "might actually be terribly dangerous precedents to set on the broader world stage because of the message they could send to other miscreants."
Although North Korea and Iran pose grave, unresolved nonproliferation challenges, the State Department official said not all the news is grim. She pointed to recent counterproliferation success in Libya as an example. Among the items recently removed successfully from Libya were nuclear weapon design documents, DeSutter said.
She also said the United States is working hard to make it both difficult and unprofitable to trade in goods associated with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). DeSutter pointed to an agreement concluded in February between Liberia and the United States to allow U.S. searches of Liberian-flagged vessels suspected of bearing WMD-related materials.
This was a significant agreement, as Liberia allows more than 2,000 ships to sail under its registration. "Operators of these vessels are now on notice," DeSutter said, that if they carry WMD-related goods they may be subject to lawful interdiction on the high seas."
DeSutter also made a brief reference to Iraq. Although the Iraq war remains controversial, she said no one should doubt "the United States' commitment to take resolute action to counter or prevent threats to our national security from WMD proliferation."
Following is the transcript of DeSutter's remarks issued by the State Department on March 18:
Contending with a Nuclear-Ready Iran
Good evening, and thanks for inviting me to say a few words to your group. This is an important time to be considering how the United States and the world should deal with an Iranian regime determined to develop nuclear weapons because that is exactly what we face. Tomorrow morning [March 8], in fact, the IAEA Board of Governors begins its quarterly meeting. One of the items on its agenda is the consideration of Director General Mohammed ElBaradei's pending report on Iranian nuclear safeguards -- or, more accurately, on Iran's failures to fulfill its safeguards obligations.
The U.S. government has made no secret of its longstanding conclusion that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program, although for many years we were limited in what we could say publicly because most of our knowledge came from sensitive intelligence sources. Today, however, at least some of Iran's program stands in stark relief, thanks to public exposures and to investigatory work by IAEA inspectors in following up on them. How the IAEA Board chooses to deal with Iran now constitutes one of the most important challenges facing the nonproliferation regime today.
My deputy at the Verification and Compliance Bureau, Christopher Ford, has already spoken to you about the specifics of the Iran situation. I'd like to say a few words tonight about the bigger picture -- about how these Iran challenges fit into the broader framework of U.S. national security and counterproliferation policies.
How we deal with Iran at the IAEA will be a precedent when dealing with other nuclear proliferators and violators of their safeguards agreements or the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) itself. It's important, therefore, to keep considering Iran not just as a single, specific regional problem but as a challenge to the nonproliferation regime itself. Solutions that might seem appealing as a case-specific fix, in other words, might actually be terribly dangerous precedents to set on the broader world stage, because of the message they could send to other miscreants.
Our concern for the nuclear nonproliferation regime plays into all our counterproliferation policies. The Bush administration, for instance, has resolutely resisted North Korean efforts to cast the nuclear crisis there as a bilateral issue between Washington and Pyongyang. We have insisted upon working through the mechanism of the Six-Party Talks -- involving Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia as well as the U.S. and the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] -- precisely because North Korea is a much broader problem, in which a range of countries in the region must be involved. We must also not forget that North Korea poses a challenge to the nonproliferation regime as a whole. Other rogue states will surely take careful note how we deal with one country that may have crossed the weaponization threshold before we could stop it. In the cost-benefit calculations that underlie would-be proliferators' decision-making, such lessons are sure to be carefully scrutinized.
North Korea and Iran's disregard for their obligations under the NPT have created a crossroads for the international community. The United States is committed to strengthening the NPT and the IAEA so that no more states can use the NPT as cover for their nuclear weapons program. The president made a series of recommendations on the nuclear trade that would strengthen the IAEA. The president also encouraged all member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to halt transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technologies to states that do not already possess full scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants. It is vital that the international community come together and strengthen the NPT and the IAEA to ensure that we do not face another North Korea or Iran.
Iran and North Korea remain grave challenges that have not yet been resolved. But the news isn't all grim. There are some encouraging signs to report in the global effort being waged by the United States and its allies against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since our successes also weigh heavily in proliferators' cost-benefit calculations as well -- and will affect how countries such as Iran respond to the international community when challenged over its secret nuclear weapons ambitions -- I d like to mention a few of them.
Foremost in my mind right now is the situation in Libya, which last December  announced its groundbreaking decision to give up weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and long-range missiles. As coordinator for the State Department-led U.S. government effort to work with our British allies in helping Libya fulfill these courageous commitments, I spend a lot of time working toward Libyan WMD dismantlement, and I'm pleased to report that things continue to go very well.
In January, for instance, we removed highly sensitive documentation from Libya, tons of uranium centrifuge equipment and some complete centrifuges, and several key missile guidance packages. Among the items we got out of Libya were actual design documents for a nuclear weapon -- which Libya had procured from A.Q. Khan's black market network. Libya has given us very good access to a range of sensitive sites and WMD and missile personnel, and this very weekend [March 6-7] we are removing great quantities of additional equipment, both from Libya's previously secret enrichment program and from its long-range missile program. We have worked closely with the Libyans on their declaration yesterday to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and helped set in motion Libya's destruction of its hitherto secret stockpile of unfilled chemical munitions -- a task which was completed a few days ago. So far, our work in Libya has been a great success story. We still have much work to do in verifying that what has been declared to us is all there is, and in gaining confidence that Libya's programs will not be revived, but Qadhafi's strategic and historic decision to reverse course is a tremendous development.
Events in Libya have been a notable counter-proliferation success in their own right, of course. Perhaps of even more importance in the long run, however, is the degree to which they stand as an example to other rogue states. We've been working very hard, during this administration, on a new U.S. strategy to change the cost-benefit calculations of would-be proliferators. We have brought a whole new approach to our nonproliferation efforts, combining diplomacy, economic sanctions, political pressure, active interdiction, and the possibility of military force to help would-be proliferators learn the lesson that the pursuit of WMD is, in the long-run, a no-win situation. We are endeavoring to teach the world that such dangerous and illicit activities bring not security but insecurity.
The United States is working very hard to make it difficult and unprofitable to deal in WMD-related goods. Events in Libya have helped reveal publicly what we've been worrying about in secret for some time: the worldwide nuclear proliferation network exemplified by renegades such as Pakistan's A.Q. Khan. President Bush described the Khan network in unprecedented detail in his speech on February 11, but under his leadership we have been engaged in a quiet struggle against them for some time.
Proliferation Security Initiative
Among the steps we have taken to impede illicit WMD trade is to organize the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a joint undertaking by a dozen or so like-minded countries dedicated to improving their individual and collective efforts to prevent proliferation. PSI coordinates joint activities with our allies through use of existing national authorities to stop proliferation across the board, from the enforcement of national jurisdiction to coordinated international efforts at interdicting shipments in transit.
Many of our successes in such interdiction cannot be discussed publicly, but the public has already seen intimations of its impact in the seizure of the ship BBC China. Stopping that ship, carrying uranium enrichment equipment bound for Libya, was a crucial factor in Libya's decision to come clean with its WMD activities, and thus helped precipitate Libya's groundbreaking disarmament announcement two months later. North Korea is also feeling the pinch, as its worldwide proliferation shipments are increasingly subject to inspection and potential seizure -- as occurred with a seizure by Taiwan authorities last year of a nerve-agent precursor destined for North Korea. Proliferation hasn't been stopped, but we are making it riskier and more problematic than ever.
In mid-February, the administration announced another important step in its vigorous counterproliferation campaign with the signing of an agreement with Liberia to permit the U.S. to stop and search Liberian-flagged vessels suspected of carrying WMD or related delivery systems. Liberia is the second-most popular international maritime flag of convenience, and currently permits more than 2,000 vessels to sail under its registration around the world. Operators of these vessels are now on notice that if they carry WMD-related goods, they may be subject to lawful interdiction on the high seas. With steps such as this, we are working to make WMD proliferation a loser's game.
This Liberian agreement will be particularly interesting to those of you familiar with the history of the development of the today-unquestioned international legal norm against trading in slaves. The slave trade, of course, used to be widespread and internationally tolerated. In the early 19th century, however, Britain's Royal Navy led the way in undertaking anti-slaving patrols off West Africa. Legally, these patrols had their foundation in an expanding web of bilateral agreements, reached between Britain and West African leaders, that permitted stops and searches of vessels suspected of carrying slaves. Over time, although slavery as a domestic institution continued for years, British, American, and other international naval interdiction efforts helped dismember the international trade in slaves. Moreover, these efforts led to the development of what today is generally accepted as a powerful international norm [of behavior] banning slave trading.
If this 19th-century process sounds familiar, it should. Our administration is leading the way in creating a similar web of bilateral agreements to permit searches of vessels suspected of carrying WMD-related goods. And, like our British anti-slaving predecessors, we've also begun in West Africa. We have high hopes that, over time, the Proliferation Security Initiative and our vigorous interdiction efforts will make WMD trafficking as risky and problematic as the international slave trade has become.
In discussing our efforts to shape proliferator incentives, I would be remiss if I did not also mention the case of Iraq. The Iraq war was, and remains, highly controversial, but I feel quite safe in saying that no one today should doubt the United States' commitment to take resolute action to counter or prevent threats to our national security from WMD proliferation. And the example of Iraq has not been lost on others. Libya's decision to renounce WMD and long-range missiles was one undertaken entirely voluntarily, and it was the result of a variety of factors -- including the counterproliferation measures I have just outlined. I do not believe, however, that it was entirely a coincidence that Libya's first secret overtures to us and the British on WMD issues occurred in March 2003, that secret site visits were permitted in October after the BBC China interdiction, and that the Libyans' final announcement was made only three days after Saddam Hussein was pulled out of his hole in December. The president's determination to use force in Iraq must inevitably factor into the cost-benefit calculations of other would-be proliferators.
Aggressive Sanctions Implementation
All the while, this administration has been aggressively using sanctions as a tool to deter proliferation. We are employing these laws as they were meant to be employed -- firmly. We are not only imposing sanctions far more frequently, but we are also allowing them to stick, ensuring that proliferation doesn't pay.
Our most dramatic step in this respect was the imposition of a total ban upon imports from the Chinese company NORINCO [China North Industries Corp.), ending that firm's $150-million trading relationship with the United States in order to penalize it for engaging in certain proliferation activity. In effect, we are today giving would-be proliferators a choice they never before had to face: they can trade with the United States, or they can proliferate weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles -- but they can't do both.
National Defense University Speech
And the president continues to explore new and innovative ways to fight proliferation. On February 11, at the National Defense University, he announced a new series of initiatives that will powerfully complement the important and unprecedented steps we have taken so far.
The president proposed, for instance, to expand PSI coordination activities to include not just interdicting shipments in transit but undertaking criminal prosecutions of those who engage in WMD-related trade, as well as steps to dismember their organizations, seize their materials, and freeze their assets. He also proposed expanding the Nunn-Lugar legislation to provide funding for counterproliferation projects outside the former Soviet Union.
In addition to continuing to pursue his proposal for a Security Council resolution to criminalize proliferation, the president also proposed that the world's nuclear exporters undertake a new initiative to ensure that states have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian nuclear reactors, on the condition that recipients abandon the sorts of enrichment and reprocessing activities that countries such as Iran have been seeking in order to support their secret weapons programs. He also urged members of the 40-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) to refuse to sell enrichment and reprocessing equipment to any state that does not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants. Indeed, the president proposed that -- starting next year -- states unwilling to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol should not be permitted to import any nuclear equipment at all.
Finally, the president proposed an overhaul of the IAEA in order to establish a special committee of the IAEA Board of Governors to focus upon safeguards and verification. This verification subcommittee would strengthen the agency's efforts to verify that nations comply with their obligations. The president also made clear that states under investigation for proliferation violations should not be permitted to serve on the IAEA Board of Governors.
Many of these steps directly address problems in controlling nuclear nonproliferation illustrated by the troublesome case of Iran:
-- In dealing with Iran, it has proven difficult to deal with the large and cumbersome full board. A subcommittee dedicated to verification and compliance matters would help focus attention where it is deserved, and provide a forum in which improvements to member state and IAEA procedures and approaches could be dealt with more effectively.
-- Iran served for two years on the board, even while defying IAEA investigators and using its board seat as a rallying point for efforts to conceal and excuse safeguards violations. The fox should not have been permitted to help guard the henhouse. The president would prevent such problems in the future.
-- Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapons capability under cover of its civilian program, and acquired substantial enrichment and/or reprocessing capabilities as part of this clandestine effort. Iran has impeded the work of IAEA inspectors, resisted agreement to the Additional Protocol, introduced nuclear material into the Natanz cascades after the board urged it not to do so, hid centrifuge technology from the board even after November 2003, and even today continues to equivocate on its suspension promises. Iran should, therefore, be allowed to purchase no further enrichment or reprocessing equipment. Indeed, it should be denied any other help for its nuclear program until these grave compliance issues are resolved.
-- The president's proposal to expand the flexibility of Nunn-Lugar money as a way of funding important projects outside the former Soviet Union is also welcome. What we've found in Libya is that U.S. economic sanctions against rogue states involved in WMD and terrorism activity are quite effective at preventing the U.S. government from spending money there to eliminate WMD programs. In fact, the only fund of money we've been able to use so far is the State Department's Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund (NDF), which enjoys what's called "notwithstanding authority," which means that it can be spent notwithstanding the provisions of sanctions, laws or other restrictions. When I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Libya on February 26, I discussed this issue at some length with Chairman Lugar and Senator Biden. They were both emphatic that steps need to be taken to make Nunn-Lugar money more easily available. If, God willing, we ever get the chance to undertake a Libya-style program in Iran, we'll need a whole lot more money than NDF can supply.
The president's new initiatives are global in scope, but as you can see, they have direct relevance to the problem of Iran. These new proposals represent an important part of how we propose to deal with nuclear weapons ambitions there and elsewhere.
After literally decades of deceit and denial, Iran must finally come clean to the international community, honor its safeguards and NPT obligations, implement the Additional Protocol, and fulfill its suspension commitment to the EU3 [Germany, France and the United Kingdom members in the IAEA]. It must also be held accountable for its violations, for it is vital that we show other would-be proliferators and NPT violators that engaging in such activities is a costly and risky endeavor. Sustained international diplomatic, economic, and other pressures will be necessary to bring this about as well as more commitment to enforcing NPT and safeguards compliance than the IAEA Board has hitherto been willing to show. Both Iran and Libya will be before the board starting tomorrow. The credibility of the nonproliferation regime could rest on how these two issues are handled.
Carrots to Accompany the Sticks
Let me be clear. Our counterproliferation policy isn't just a question of using sticks. That's one reason why we're so pleased with developments in Libya. As Libya follows through with its decision to renounce WMD and long-range missiles, its relations with the United States and the United Kingdom will steadily improve, becoming more -- normal -- in ways that Libya very much wants and very much needs. This process is already underway, with the lifting of U.S. passport and travel restrictions and the recent establishment of a U.S. Interests Section in Tripoli. These are a clear sign of the improvements that will flow from continued progress in eliminating WMD and missile programs, and in cooperating in the war against terrorism.
Libya therefore, is gradually coming to illustrate that doing the right thing does not just avoid counterproliferation costs, but can bring real benefits as well. A rogue state's pursuit or possession of WMD is a huge obstacle to good relations with the developed world, and -- as we are making quite clear -- can be downright risky. We hope to be able to show in Libya that giving up such ambitions is not just a matter of cost-avoidance, but also a milestone along the road toward profitable and cooperative -- normal -- relationships with the rest of the world. This is a lesson that we hope will not be lost on other rogue regimes suffering from U.S. and international sanctions and diplomatic isolation -- including Syria, North Korea, and Iran.
All of the various "carrots and sticks" I have mentioned -- diplomacy, sanctions, interdiction, military preparedness, and economic trade and cooperative projects -- play a role in our overall counter-proliferation strategy. All of them are arrows in our quiver as we cope with the challenges of a nuclear-ready Iran and with WMD-related proliferation around the world. This administration takes these challenges with unprecedented seriousness, and we're starting to see results. We look forward to continuing to report progress along this difficult road in the years ahead.