Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
3:33 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. I will just quickly emphasize a few of the points that my colleague made in the most ambitious arms control agenda since the dawn of the nuclear age.
Under the START Treaty which, as you know, entered into force on December 5th, we are already -- have already dismantled thousands of weapons. Both the United States and Russia are ahead of schedule in taking down weapons controlled by the START I treaty because they anticipated its entry into force. In fact, the inspectors -- the baseline inspections under that treaty are beginning this weekend, and the Russian inspectors will be arriving at Dulles and on the West Coast to begin the baseline, inspectors confirming the declarations under the treaty.
A second major accomplishment has been, and was at the beginning of the administration, a major goal to prevent the emergence of any more nuclear weapons states out of the collapse of the former Soviet Union. We've succeeded in gaining agreement to accomplish that objective. The three former Soviet Republics are all engaged in transferring -- have agreed to, and are engaged in transferring their nuclear weapons back to Russia.
In terms of the 1995 agenda, it is very broad and comprehensive. The President will address it in some detail tonight. The leading item on that agenda is the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which is a cornerstone of our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to more countries. And it also makes possible the continuation of the deep cuts that we've already made and are engaged in making. As part of the effort to spur that agreement -- or that decision in New York, the President will announce tonight that he will place an additional 200 tons of fissile material -- remove 200 tons -- an additional 200 tons of fissile material from our active stockpile -- active weapons stockpile. That's enough for thousands of nuclear weapons.
I want to emphasize, in the context of the NPT, that contrary to reports, we are not -- I repeat not -- considering any compromise in our goal of an indefinite extension. And the reason for that is clear. There is a vast difference, a difference so great as to be a difference in kind, rather than in quantity, between an indefinite extension and an extension for a term of years; because after the term of years, the treaty would expire unless amended. That jeopardizes the future of the treaty, and therefore, would undermine its effectiveness, even in the short-term.
The ratification of the START II treaty is an important part of our effort to pursue indefinite extension because it will reduce nuclear warheads on both sides to a level of about one-third, or less, of their peak levels, and therefore, is the clearest possible indication that our obligations to negotiate disarmament are underway.
We've made significant progress in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations in Geneva, and these -- and also on the fissile cutoff, where we will soon have a negotiating mandate. Those relate back to important decisions the President made in 1993 that set us on this broad agenda, and we're making progress.
Another key issue this year, of course, will be implementation of the North Korean agreement and carefully to monitor compliance with their performance under that agreement.
With that, let me turn back to questions.
Q: Two hundred tons of what -- can you compare that to what is now in the stockpile?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't specifically -- can you give me a number?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's -- of course, the overall number is classified, but I think we can say that it is a significant portion and --
Q: I'm sorry, significant --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- a significant portion of the available stockpile, and it would be both -- it would comprise both highly enriched uranium and plutonium.
Q: Is this done immediately?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It will be done -- the process will be worked out. The President in making the statement commits us to do it, and the specific steps --
Q: What happens to that material? What happens to it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we have to -- we're engaged -- the plutonium is a complicated question because both we and the Russians are working on how you dispose of plutonium over the long-term. There are a number of options under consideration. The uranium can be used after you blend it down in power reactors.
Q: Is this something we were going to have to do under this treaty anyway and we're doing it ahead of schedule? Is that what's happening, or is this over and above that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, this is a --there's no treaty requiring this. This is a new initiative.
Q: This is a measure of goodwill for the countries that we're trying to get to sign NPT?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a demonstration of the United States continuing commitment to the process of reducing nuclear arsenals and making that process irreversible. When you take the material to make nuclear weapons out of the stockpile, you make it impossible for them -- for it to be used --
Q: But in the case of the plutonium, you're only moving it from one place to the other --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it will be --
Q: because you don't know how to deal with it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's true, we have to figure out how to deal with it. But the President's commitment is that it won't go back into the weapons stockpile -- it won't be available for weapons.
Q: Were we planning to build weapons with this material any time in the foreseeable future?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as long as it's in the stockpile, the option exists to build weapons. What we're doing is removing that option.
Q: Are you asking other countries to take the same step?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are engaged in negotiations with the Russians on reciprocal steps along this line, but this is separate from that; this is a unilateral step.
Q: Where are we on trying to get a comprehensive ban on production of fissile materials?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The major obstacle to an agreement on a negotiating mandate in Geneva, which was the Pakistanis' resistance to a simple negotiating mandate, has been removed. The negotiating mandate will likely be agreed to within the next few weeks. That, of course, will open negotiations. It's not the end of them. But it's an important first step.
Q: How many nations are you short on NPT?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are in the 60, 70 range. We will require 87. There are now 172 members of the Nonproliferation Treaty, and a majority of the membership who cast the vote. I'm pretty confident that we'll get there. We can't put our finger on the right number of countries yet. My expectation is that once we get to the necessary 87 that the numbers will grow significantly, that we won't stop there.
Q: So you're at 70; you need 87.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're in the 70s.
Q: And do you think this move with the material is going to lure 12, 20, something like that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't think that by itself will. It's another demonstration of good faith. There is a very large and broad effort underway, both in the United States government and in other countries, including both nonaligned countries and developed countries, European allies, Japan, Canada, Australia and others, who are working very hard on this effort to persuade countries to exceed -- or to support the indefinite extension. I want to emphasize in that context, a lot of the focus is on the -- what steps the United States and the nuclear weapon states should take in order to -- in terms of disarmament, in order to encourage other countries to support indefinite extension.
The main value of the Nonproliferation Treaty is not a favor to the United States -- it's important to us -- but the main value of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is a security instrument to the member states. The original plan, which was developed by the Irish in the '60s to negotiate a nonproliferation treaty, didn't even contemplate participation by the nuclear weapon states, that they'd have any obligation at all. It's an agreement by countries that saves them from the danger and risk and cost of a nuclear arms race in specific regions.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:41 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269862