25 April 2000

Press Briefing



The basic goal of the United States in the current Review Conference of the Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was that the Treaty should emerge stronger, Norman Wulf, Special Representative of the United States President for Nuclear Non-Proliferation, told a Headquarters press conference this morning.

He said the Treaty -- a 30-year-old international agreement with 187 States parties -- should be reviewed in all its dimensions. There should be a balanced approach to the review, encompassing the Treaty's importance as an instrument for disarmament, for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and for promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Those issues would be examined during the month-long conference. The United States hoped there would be a greater focus on endorsing universal membership of the Treaty than has been evident in the past, he said.

There should also be an examination of compliance issues, particularly in the Middle East and in North-East Asia. The United States was prepared to engage, in particular, on the record of disarmament. It was impatient, as many countries were, at the pace of nuclear disarmament. Nonetheless, there had been a remarkable record of success that the United States expected to continue, particularly with Russia's ratification of SALT II and of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, “for which we strongly congratulate Russia”.

John Holum, Senior Adviser to the United States President and Secretary of State on Arms Control and International Security, who was also present, agreed that the United States hoped to see the Review Conference succeed.

A correspondent said the United States had come under a lot of criticisms about its decision to deploy an anti-ballistic missile shield. How did the United States delegation answer the scientific charge by the Union of Concerned Scientists that the shield would not work, and how did they respond to the Chinese assertion that it posed a threat?

Mr Wulf said United States President Bill Clinton would make a decision on the deployment of the missile shield based on a number of criteria, one of which was whether the technology would work. The shield was not a threat against China or Russia. He would not second-guess the experts on the technology. One of the things the United States had been trying to do in recent months was explain to China the objectives of the national missile defence system. The United States did not regard China as a rogue State, he said, adding that it was satisfied with its relationship with that country. The United States needed to engage with China further in explaining its objectives.

In terms of its practical capabilities, he thought the system would not have much substantial capability against the forces China was likely to have deployed in any case, with or without the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

US Press Conference - 2 - 25 April 2000

As correspondents were aware, China had been engaged in modernizing its nuclear forces. The United States missile defence system would not be in place until the year 2005, at the earliest.

A correspondent asked whether the United States would be amenable to discussing a deal with Russia to modify the ABM Treaty in exchange for a lower figure of nuclear weapons in START III, such as 1,500.

Mr. Wulf said the United States was prepared to hear the Russians out. The two sides had been engaged in bilateral discussions on some aspects of the issue, but the United States position was that START III's appropriate number was 2,500. The United States thought that regardless of the offensive numbers agreed upon, it was in the interest of both countries to reach an agreement to amend the ABM Treaty and thus increase its viability for the long term.

He again said that President Clinton would have to decide, some time in the summer or fall, on the defence system he felt might be necessary for the American people. Alternatively there would be a decision to continue with United States participation in the ABM Treaty.

He told the same correspondent that the United States had not detected any flexibility on the part of Russia. There had been five rounds of discussions, and exchanges of views. "But I can't say that we are on the brink of an agreement", he said. "We're putting ourselves in a position that if there is a political decision to proceed to an agreement on both START III and ABM amendments, then we can do that quickly." There was a full understanding of what the interests of both sides were.

He told another questioner that the current conference would also focus on countries that were not members of the NPT, including India, Pakistan, Israel and Cuba. The United States would support efforts to promote the universality of the Treaty.

Mr. Holum added there seemed to be a widespread belief that the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests should be addressed in the Review Conference, the first since the tests occurred.

A correspondent asked what the timing was for Senate consideration of ratification of the START II Treaty, and whether it would consider it with the proposed amendments to the ABM Treaty as a package.

Mr. Wulf replied that the United States was still studying the conditions attached to the ratification of START II by Russia. What the United States had to ratify was the extension protocol from 1997, providing for extension of deadline on elimination to December 2007.

Replying to a further question about the missile defence system, Mr. Wulf emphasized that prevention was the first priority or preferred approach of the United States on the proliferation issue, as well as on weapons of mass destruction. He told the correspondent North Korea had agreed not to conduct further tests while talks with the United States continued. Nonetheless, he

US Press Conference - 3 - 25 April 2000

said intelligence analysis was that North Korea was very close to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability -– much closer to that than the United States was in the deployment of its national missile defence system. "We are five years away from having a missile defence. So we don't see prevention at this stage necessarily as an alternative to active defence. We're continuing to pursue prevention. It does have an impact.”

Replying to a question about the Secretary-General's statement to the Conference on Monday, Mr. Wulf said he thought he expressed a view that many countries shared and which the United States, in a large measure, also shared. That view was that the best way to deal with the spread of missiles was by agreement -- and that was what the United States was pursuing.

On the declaration of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, he said the United States had had some discussions on the subject. There had been some elements of understanding, but there was still a lot of work to be done.

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