Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


14-15Status of Final Conclusion re August 16 Seismic Event

DPB # 151
MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 1997 12:40 P.M.


QUESTION: In August, the State Department, among other US agencies, expressed concern about what could have been or what was seen to be, by some people, a nuclear explosion at the Russian testing ground. Has there now been a reversal of that suspicion?

MR. RUBIN: I believe that we never stated what we thought it was. We stated our deep concerns about the event and, as far as I know, we never stated what the event was. We have information that a seismic event occurred on August 16 in the Kara Sea, approximately 130 kilometers from the Russian nuclear test range at Novaya Zemlya.

We have not reached a final conclusion as to whether the August 16 seismic event was an explosion or an earthquake. While there is evidence indicating Russia was conducting nuclear-related experiments at the Novaya Zemlya test site at the time of the August 16 event, we cannot connect the activity at the test site to the August 16 seismic event in the Kara Sea.

In short, we don't know whether it was an explosion or an earthquake, in terms of any final conclusion. You often see in news accounts rolling conclusions as different people have them, but I'm not in a position to state at this time what our final conclusion as to what transpired there, other than to say we have not concluded that it is one or the other.

QUESTION: Wouldn't it be unlikely for any country to conduct a nuclear test x-hundred miles or x-hundred kilometers off the coast in an underwater site?

MR. RUBIN: Again, you are going to try to draw me down the path of drawing a conclusion, and I am determined to say that we have reached no final conclusion. We have raised this matter in our discussions with the Russians. We will continue to do so, but we have reached no final conclusion.

QUESTION: Do you want to leave that, Jamie, that the weight isn't in one direction or the other? The people you used to work for are pretty convinced it's a seismic event and --

MR. RUBIN: The moment we have a final conclusion --

QUESTION: The community thinks it's earthquake. The State Department - the US Government thinks it could be either or?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I've seen different government officials stating it from both sides. And rather than pick a side, I'm going to wait until we have a final conclusion.

QUESTION: Have you not concluded, though, that it was not a nuclear explosion? There was no radioactivity?

MR. RUBIN: We have reached no final conclusion as to whether it was an explosion of a nuclear kind or any other kind or an earthquake. We haven't reached a final conclusion. There are some preliminary reports about what we thought when it first happened, preliminary reports about our preliminary conclusions. But until we reach a final conclusion, I don't think it's wise for us to state what we think it was from this podium.

QUESTION: And being unable to determine, what does that tell you about your ability to monitor the treaty itself? Do you have concerns about that?

MR. RUBIN: Remember that the monitoring of a treaty is not proving a negative. It is not proving that something didn't happen. The monitoring of a treaty is being able to monitor with confidence that a militarily significant event has occurred. We believe, had the treaty been in effect, we would be in an even better position to have come to a quicker conclusion or an ultimate conclusion about what happened here.

So on the contrary, the comprehensive test ban would give us additional tools to be sure that when an event that we have not made a determination has occurred, we will be in a better position to make that determination. Just because you can't decide what something is instantly doesn't mean that you are not in a position to respond in a timely manner if it was militarily significant.

................... [end of document]