21 January 1999
(Says FMCT is a "very high" U.S. priority) (540) By Wendy Lubetkin USIA European Correspondent Geneva -- John Holum, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs and Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), says he is confident that negotiations on a treaty to ban production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons will get under way soon at the Conference on Disarmament (CD). A Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) remains a "very high priority of the United States and a number of other countries," Holum told a press briefing in Geneva January 21. "It is basically the means we have to cap the potential for nuclear weapons globally by limiting their basic ingredients: that is, the highly enriched uranium and the plutonium that are necessary to make nuclear weapons." After addressing the Conference, and meeting with representatives of a number of its member states, Holum said he believes the CD is "in the mood to get back down to what this committee is known for: producing real, enforceable, effective, practical results in arms control and non-proliferation." The CD opened the first part of its 1999 session January 19 with Ambassador Robert Grey, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, as its President. Presidency of the CD rotates among the body's 61-member states. Holum said the United States is "looking forward to a great deal of progress" during the current session. "There are some obstacles, but I think the negotiations will get under way soon." "I think there is general agreement that the FMCT is ripe for negotiation," he declared. "Last year was a wake-up call that reminded all of us that there is still a great deal to be done if we are going to get on top of the problem of non-proliferation. In particular the nuclear tests in South Asia; missile tests in Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan; the continued defiance of Iraq, and other challenges underscore that we have a great deal of work to do." Holum was asked why the United States opposes negotiations within the Conference on Disarmament to reduce fissile material stockpiles. Pointing out that the United States and Russia are engaged in eliminating very large stockpiles of HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) and plutonium from weapons that are being dismantled, Holum said the United States believes reductions are "more appropriately a bilateral or regional effort rather than an element of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty globally." "This is for a very practical reason. I don't know how an international body could decide on the appropriate measures for the elimination of stocks, or more importantly, on what size stocks are appropriate," he told questioners. Asked about Iraq, Holum said there is no question but that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will seek to reconstitute his capabilities with regard to weapons of mass destruction. "So we certainly regard Iraq as a continuing threat in the region. What is most important now is to find some way to restore Iraq's cooperation with UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) in carrying out the necessary inspections," he said.