Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan
Washington Convention Center
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before we hear from John Brennan, the President's advisor on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, I wanted to start today with an announcement.
Today, Ukraine announced a landmark decision to get rid of all of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012. Ukraine intends to remove a substantial part of its stocks this year. Ukraine will convert its civil nuclear research facilities -- operate with low-enriched uranium fuel. This is something that the United States has tried to make happen for more than 10 years. The material is enough to construct several nuclear weapons. And this demonstrates Ukraine's continued leadership in non-proliferation and comes in an important region where we know a lot of highly enriched uranium exists.
With that, let me turn this over to John Brennan.
MR. GIBBS: I can answer some and John and I can -- we'll both answer questions.
MR. BRENNAN: Good afternoon, everyone. The threat of nuclear terrorism is real, it is serious, it is growing, and it constitutes one of the greatest threats to our national security and, indeed, to global security.
Over the past two decades there has been indisputable evidence that dozens of terrorist groups have actively sought some type of weapon of mass effect. Relative to other such potential weapons -- which include biological, chemical, radiological -- the consequences and impact of a nuclear attack would be the most devastating as well as the most lasting.
Thus, the ability to obtain a nuclear weapon and to use it is the ultimate and most prized goal of terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is especially notable for its longstanding interest in acquiring weapons-useable nuclear material and the requisite expertise that would allow it to develop a yield producing improvised nuclear device.
Al Qaeda has been engaged in the effort to acquire a nuclear weapon for over 15 years, and its interest remains strong today. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups know that if they are able to acquire highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium and turn it into a weapon, they would have the ability not only to threaten our security and world order in an unprecedented manner, but also to kill and injure many thousands of innocent men, women and children, which is al Qaeda's sole agenda.
Disturbingly, international organized criminal syndicates and criminal gangs are keenly aware of the strong interest of terrorist groups to acquire fissile material, which has prompted these criminals to pursue nuclear materials for their own personal gain.
Over the past decade there has been a significant increase in the sharing of terrorism-related intelligence among nations of the world, to include intelligence on the ways and means used by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to pursue their nuclear weapon ambitions.
While this intelligence-sharing is invaluable, it must be accompanied by collective and effective action by all nations of the world to deny and to deprive terrorists and criminal groups the opportunity to gain the nuclear related material and the expertise that would allow them to fulfill their evil goals. Indeed, our future and the future of generations yet to come depend on our ability to safeguard these materials and expertise.
So while there are many different nuclear issues that the administration is addressing, there is none more important than this one. That is why we are focusing specifically on nuclear terrorism and nuclear security over the next two days, because these issues must be addressed with a sense of focus and urgency.
MR. GIBBS: With that, let us -- we'll all take a series of questions. Yes, sir.
Q: Mr. Gibbs, a question for you on Ukraine and a question for Mr. Brennan, if I could, on al Qaeda. This highly enriched uranium, where is it going to be sent?
MR. GIBBS: The final disposition location is yet to be determined. The announcement and the agreement obviously happened just a little bit ago. That's a process that we'll be working on. The United States will provide some degree of both technical and financial assistance to ensure that it happens.
Q: Do you have a potential destination for (inaudible)?
MR. GIBBS: It's among them, yes.
Q: And may I ask a question of Mr. Brennan?
MR. BRENNAN: Of course.
Q: You mentioned with regard to al Qaeda that they've been seeking nuclear weapons for 15 years and you described our interest as strong -- remains strong, you said. Could you provide any evidence that they are actively pursuing a nuclear weapon? Are they on the black market, or anything you can point to that they're doing today?
MR. BRENNAN: I think over the past 15 years you have open testimony in court about al Qaeda's efforts to, for example, try to obtain uranium in Sudan in 1994. You have statements that al Qaeda seniors, including bin Laden and Zawahiri, have made about their determination to use and to seek those weapons. They say it's in the defense of their agenda, which purports to be Muslim. And there is a strong body of intelligence that goes back over the past decade that clearly indicates that al Qaeda is -- has been trying to procure these materials on the open market and with criminal syndicates. So the evidence is strong, the track record is demonstrated, and we know that al Qaeda continues to pursue these materials.
MR. GIBBS: David.
Q: Mr. Brennan, just a follow-up on that same question. Are you aware of any effort by al Qaeda to obtain material or expertise since the meeting that took place just before 9/11 where the members -- the former members of the Khan research laboratory traveled up to talk to Osama bin Laden? And secondly, are you aware of any efforts at this point, continuing efforts, to infiltrate that body of trained scientists in Pakistan or training outside Europe who would then come back into the labs?
MR. BRENNAN: There have been numerous reports over the years, over the past eight or nine years, about attempts throughout the world to obtain various types of purported material that is nuclear related. We know that al Qaeda has been involved in a number of these efforts to acquire it. Fortunately, I think they've been scammed a number of times, but we know that they continued to pursue that. We know of individuals within the organization that have been given that responsibility.
So there has been I think demonstrated interest across a number of years. And also one of the things we're most concerned about this is probably the most sensitive of their efforts, and therefore it will have only very few people involved in the effort. And therefore it requires that very good intelligence work that's done.
And the second question as far as potential insider threat, throughout the world I think al Qaeda is looking for those vulnerabilities and facilities and stockpiles in different countries that would allow them to obtain the byproducts of nuclear reactors and materials that they can use -- but also to go after those individuals that might have access to the materials as well as individuals who have the expertise that they need to actually fabricate an improvised nuclear device.
Q: Any evidence they've actually managed to do that, particularly in the Pakistan (inaudible).
MR. BRENNAN: There's evidence of their attempts to do that. I would like to think that we have been able to thwart their success to date.
Q: Mr. Brennan, two questions. Did you get -- what kind of reassurance did the President get from the Prime Minister of Pakistan? And did you get some reassurance that they understand this issue (inaudible) what they're doing with their nuclear (inaudible) being so close to where al Qaeda is physically (inaudible) that they are doing everything they can to protect (inaudible). Can you describe the nature of who these gangs are, you're talking about criminal gangs, organized crime -- are these Russian (inaudible).
And then, Robert, could you --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me just -- before John gets to Pakistan, I would read you from the readout yesterday that the President indicated his appreciation of that broad based sentiment and used -- addressing the topic of the conference, reasserted the importance of nuclear security, a priority that he has reiterated for all countries. The Prime Minister of Pakistan indicated his assurance that Pakistan takes nuclear security seriously and has appropriate safeguards in place.
And on Poland, no decisions have yet been made.
MR. GIBBS: I think they are -- scheduling is looking at a number of possibilities.
MR. BRENNAN: I'm not going to get into the details of the bilateral discussion that may have taken place, but today's event is a seminal one as far as nuclear security is concerned. But also it is part of a process that was started, at least in this administration, 15 months ago, where we've had regular and ongoing conversations with a number of the nations of the world, to include Pakistan, addressing the goals and objectives that we know that al Qaeda is after and what types of threat they pose to our interests and to the interests of other countries.
So our engagement with Pakistan runs the full gamut as far as what al Qaeda is trying to do, whether it be to kill innocents or to carry out other types of attacks and objectives that really threaten our national security and the Pakistan national security.
On the issue of those international organized crimes -- sometimes they're criminal gangs that have information that some material had come out from the, let's say the area of the former Soviet Union or some stockpiles and they will try to provide that material to other groups to sell. As I said, a lot of it is scam, you know, red mercury, whatever else. But there are real concerns about the vulnerabilities that may exist out there as far as stockpiles that still need to be buttoned down because these criminal gangs are looking for opportunities to make money. And it runs across continents, it's not just in a particular area or locale; it runs throughout Asia, Europe, the Western Hemisphere. These gangs and criminal syndicates are trying to obtain that material.
Q: Is Pakistan the number one security (inaudible)?
MR. BRENNAN: Our concerns are global and that's why the President has brought these individuals together today, which is to make sure that this is a collective action.
MR. GIBBS: And the President was directly engaged on exactly this question when President Zardari and President Karzai traveled to the United States in March 2009 as part of that trilateral meeting. And I would say, as I mentioned in my announcement, I think one of the important developments out of the announcement relating to Ukraine is we understand the concentration of these types of materials in former Soviet republics.
Q: Thank you, Robert. There's the material from Chile, and now Ukraine, which you said could potentially come to the United States. Is the President concerned, are you concerned, that the United States might have to make itself kind of a storage facility, a global storage facility for these materials? And if so, don't you have another Yucca Mountain with international implications here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, the goal of this summit and the reason the President is so concerned about it is our genuine concern about the security environment in which this material is held. We don't worry about the security environment with which that material is held in this country, whether that's in different places around the country. The President sees, as John mentioned, the threat of this type of material falling into the hands of somebody who wants to use it for their evil designs as the number one security threat that we face as a world.
So I think this is just the type of announcement that we would like to see. I traveled with the then-senator Obama to Ukraine in 2005 with Senator Lugar. We visited a facility that -- basically the equivalent of the Ukraine's CDC. We walked into a room and out of a refrigerator somebody who worked there took out a series of test tubes that were anthrax.
Suffice to say, I think the level at which we believe that type of material ought to be secured -- in 2005 that standard was not being met at the facility we went to. We provide through -- on nuclear issues through the Nunn-Lugar program and in other programs the type of funding necessary to help many of these countries secure this material. We have assisted Ukraine in a number of those projects, whether it be biological, chemical, or in this case nuclear.
John, do you have anything else?
Q: But in many cases won't it be necessary to bring that material to the United States to make sure that it is secure?
MR. GIBBS: In some instances it will be and, Chip, we welcome that. Again, we -- there's --
Q: But to the American people, they don't even want materials from this country being transported to Yucca Mountain, how are you going to transport materials from around the world to the United States?
MR. GIBBS: Safely. As we did with Chile. Remember, Chip, we have a choice. Right? We can take a flyer on this being secured somewhere else in hopes that somebody with the type of designs that John discussed, or needless to say, in the tough economic situation, somebody working in one of these labs who needs some money making a sale.
I think the American people feel wholly more confident that the material of which not a huge amount can destroy an entire city -- I think they'd feel far more secure knowing that that material is under safe lock and key and guarded in this country, rather than potentially floating around somewhere else.
Q: Robert, I have a question for you and a couple for Mr. Brennan. You said that Ukraine is committed to having all this highly-enriched uranium disposed of by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit. When is the next Nuclear Security Summit?
MR. GIBBS: In 2012. We will announce, likely tomorrow, the location for that.
Q: Okay. And then, Mr. Brennan, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, Ukraine has almost 70 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, 13.2, the Institute for Nuclear Research Institute in Kiev, and up to 6.1 at the Sevastopol Naval Research Institute. Is that what you're talking about is all going to be disposed of, or is there additional highly-enriched uranium that we don't know about?
MR. GIBBS: I would say that -- if my math is correct is roughly 90 kilograms -- I'm under the impression that it's actually more than that. I don't want to get into a specific amount. It's enough, as I said, for the construction of several nuclear weapons and I would say many, many times greater than the amount that was recovered from Chile, although that obviously was an important announcement in ensuring that any of that highly-enriched uranium is now under lock and key.
Q: Can I have one more crack with Mr. Brennan?
MR. BRENNAN: Sure.
Q: Gibbs said that -- Mr. Gibbs said that the United States has been trying to do this for 10 years. What made the difference? Why is it happening now?
MR. BRENNAN: There has been an effort over many years to try to ensure that nuclear materials are going to be safeguarded. This was one of the priority items that President Obama had when he entered office and there has been a lot of work that has been done over the past 15 months in order to get to this point today, where we can bring together so many major world leaders who recognize that there is a threat out there and it requires collective action because terrorist groups and international criminal organizations will look for the weakest link in the chain, and that's why it's so critically important that all countries take the responsibility seriously.
MR. GIBBS: Dan.
Q: First, Mr. Brennan, if you could clarify again this ongoing threat that you were talking about from these terrorist groups, al Qaeda, is there anything specific now that intelligence is telling you that this threat exists -- not just general threat over the last 10 years or the last 5 years, but anything actively going on now that intelligence can point to?
MR. BRENNAN: I think you can point to a lot of al Qaeda activities and public statements that underscore their determination to carry out attacks against U.S., Western interests, as well as the interests of other countries and nations. And there is a significant amount of intelligence that underlies those statements and those assessments that are public.
Al Qaeda has demonstrated this determination and also extreme patience in going after particular types of capabilities. And we know for certain that there are individuals that have been within al Qaeda that have been given this responsibility. This is a very, very tough challenge though for us to be able to look worldwide to see where al Qaeda might be undertaking biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear programs.
And so there is intelligence that indicates that al Qaeda continues its murderous agenda and continues to look toward WMD capabilities in order to carry out that agenda.
Q: Robert, on Iran and where China is in terms of embracing tougher sanctions, can you give us an update on that? Do they seem to be softening more to that?
MR. GIBBS: Dan, let me not get ahead of the meeting that I think is about 15 minutes -- if they're still on schedule -- from happening. We will do a readout of what's discussed in the meeting afterwards. I think we've all seen reports over the last several weeks of the progress that the P5-plus-1 is making, including China. The President had a very constructive discussion with President Medvedev just a few days ago in Prague in moving this along, and I think -- I was and I think others were struck by the notion that the President outlined the desire to see steps -- next steps if Iran refused to live up to its obligations, and the first sentence out of the mouth of the Russian President was that he couldn't disagree with that assessment.
Q: I'd just like to take a stab again at what Chip was talking about. These nuclear materials have half-lives in the thousands of years, if not the tens of thousands of years. And Yucca Mountain was being designed to store material for that length of time. Is this --
MR. GIBBS: Understanding, Jonathon, we're not talking about the same material that would have been deposited in Yucca as to highly enriched uranium that we would -- and without getting -- I think you can find the location of many of the labs and security sites that we have that are fairly commonly known on where this is.
So, again, I just don't want to -- I think the notion of drawing a very easily connected line to somehow Yucca, this is --
Q: Are you planning to blend it down for fuel?
Q: That's what I was about to ask. I mean, is this -- because you have --
MR. GIBBS: Look, the final disposition could easily take the form of a low-enriched uranium in order to provide for the use in a peaceful nuclear program. I certainly think that is one of if not -- well, let me just say one of the disposition ideas. Again, because this is a fresh announcement, the final resting place for that material -- some of it may be here, some of it may not be here.
My answer to Chip was simply to say I think when forced with the choice of having that material stored safely here or taking the risk that it may or may not be secured somewhere else, particularly in highly volatile regions in the world, our choice quite clearly is to have that here.
Q: Is the administration, though, thinking -- trying to embark on a longer term project to think about what to do with all of this HEU that you're trying to get? This is a very complicated question, it's not just moving it from one place to another.
MR. BRENNAN: My concern, being the President's Counterterrorism Advisor, is that there are materials that are out there that terrorist groups are trying to go after. We need to make sure we do everything possible as soon as possible to secure those materials, those stockpiles and deny them to terrorist organizations.
Clearly there are going to be a number of decisions and actions that will have to be taken in terms of the ultimate disposition and use of those materials. But we cannot wait any longer before we lockdown these stockpiles, because we don't want to have any type of materials that fall into the hands of terrorist groups because the results will be devastating.
Q: Just to make sure I understand this. Is the preferred course of this administration to bring it to the United States as opposed to leaving it where it could be unsecure, in a cakes like Ukraine?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I mean, again, just to reiterate, this is something that -- I mean, obviously in former Soviet republics you had basically an overnight problem in the very early ‘90s -- which, quite honestly, is how the Nunn-Lugar program came to be. So Ukraine has taken a number of positive steps, including giving up a lot at the very beginning of that -- in the history of that. But obviously our preferred action is to ensure the security. And I would say that there will be a lot of things that are discussed with individual countries and collectively over the next few days. Some countries have highly-enriched uranium; some don't. Some can play a role in interdiction; some can play a role in security. There are a host of roles for every nation to play, which is why the President has brought so many people here this week.
Q: And in those conversations, is it first option presented: Well, we'll take it.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think that's among a range of options. Our hope is --
Q: It's our preferred one, though, isn't it?
MR. GIBBS: -- look, in some cases, with different materials, as I spoke earlier, our country has helped secure what's there. In terms of highly-enriched uranium, as John said, our goal is to make sure that's secure. If the most secure place is to have that here, then we're certainly -- that's certainly our goal.
Q: Let me follow up with John, because, John, you said, it's important to button down the supplies we know about. For the average person in America who values your opinion and wants to know what do you mean by that -- what do you mean by buttoning it down? Is it a matter of accounting? Is it a matter of putting a number on it, having a place that we can inspect that has 16 master locks? I mean, what is it that buttons it down?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, it's all of the above. It's making sure that they understand exactly the nature of their stockpiles, the inventories, the security procedures that are in place at various facilities throughout the world. It's the movement; it's the transport; it's the people who are working at these facilities. There is a gamut of responsibilities that nations have. As Robert said, there are some countries that have these facilities that need to do a better job of locking down these materials and denying them the opportunity for terrorists to take advantage of whatever vulnerabilities might be out there.
That's why these discussions are taking place. They've been taking place over the past 15 months at the expert level to identify all the parts of the broader nuclear security architecture that we really need to make sure is as strong as possible.
Q: But those commitments are non-binding, are they not? I mean, there's no general enforcement mechanism or enforcement out there. These are agreements that nations to made to each other. What is the means by which to check to verify that these commitments are being met?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can assure you that over the course of the next two years, as I said, the United States will provide whatever technical assistance is necessary to ensure that the movement of very dangerous and not easy to handle material -- that that's accomplished. I mean, Major, look, there's -- we're not signing any formal mechanism today, but I would say the commitments made between those two leaders, the President feels confident in -- in understanding as well what we'll then begin to provide, along with other nations in the world, for the ability to lock this stuff down.
Q: Robert, this morning CNN did an interview with the President of Ukraine, and he specifically said that this would be going, this material would be going to Russia. He did not mention the United States. And one --
MR. GIBBS: Again -- go ahead.
Q: And one question that I would have is, in previous cases that are carried out by the Energy Department, if the material was originally, let's say, from Russia, it would be returned to Russia. If it was from the United States, it would be returned to the United States. So it seems a bit confusing why it would come to the United States.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I simply said that it could. The final destination -- and we talked about this before I came out here -- had yet to have been finally determined. So again, our goal is to ensure that, whether we're providing the assistance for someone else to secure it, whether it comes here, there are an entire range of secure options that are exponentially better than the up-in-the-air risk that we face today with the ability for this type of material to slip out of where it is and into somebody else's hands that seeks to do us and other nations great harm.
Q: It just seems rather odd that you would announce this without knowing where that material would be going.
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is 10 years in the making. The important thing is an agreement to move it over the course of the next two years, as I said, a substantial amount of that leaving Ukraine this year. We will work with and provide, as I said, the technical and financial assistance that's necessary.
From our perspective, the biggest thing is an agreement to get it out and an agreement to get it under the type of security regime that is required for this type of material. There's no doubt there will be details that are going to need to be worked out between now and 2012, and they've committed to doing that, understanding that over the course of the last 10-plus years the announcement that we've made today is what we've been hoping to be able to say. And I think the President believes that the commitment that Ukraine, the commitment that Chile and other countries have made as a result of these efforts is something that will make the world demonstrably more secure.
Q: For Mr. Brennan, you've been speaking about the attempts of al Qaeda to get nuclear materials. What is your assessment of the actual ability of al Qaeda at this point, both in terms of material, that it might happen, or in the personnel, trained scientists who could develop a weapon -- not just their attempts, but what they can do --
MR. BRENNAN: Well, the ability of a terrorist group to acquire weapons or expertise is directly related to the vulnerability of those materials. And that's what we've been trying to address here. Over the years, al Qaeda -- including some senior al Qaeda members -- have claimed that they already have such nuclear capability or weapons. That's not proved, but also at the same time it's difficult to disprove something like that. There is no indication that I have that al Qaeda has a nuclear weapons capability. At the same time though, I am determined to ensure that they're not going to be able to obtain that type of capability.
And the best way to do it, as we continue to degrade and destroy al Qaeda, is to take away the opportunities they may have to acquire the fissile material -- highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium -- or the expertise that is required to use that fissile material to create an improvised nuclear explosive devise. And we have been very aggressive on this front; we're working very closely with our international partners, we'll continue to do that. But the risk of that eventuality is a factor of the determination of al Qaeda, but then the vulnerability of these materials. And that's what this conference today is trying to address -- the vulnerabilities that are out there that we need to close down.
Q: Robert, with regard to Ukraine, what's the estimated cost to the United States to help? And are any other --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an estimate on the financial cost at this point.
Q: Not even a range?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: Are any other countries stepping up, as well, to provide technical and financial --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that, as Jill mentioned, this is Russian in origin and I think obviously they will play a significant role in helping to secure that as well.
Q: And are we prepared to help other countries that may step forward tomorrow or some other --
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, again the goal is to do all that we can -- again, understanding that our desire is to see this as secure as it possibly can be. I think that takes many forms and our assistance and the assistance of our partners and our allies will certainly be important not just this week but in the coming years to ensure that the goal that the President has outlined of securing all vulnerable nuclear material over the course of the next four years is something that's going to have to be done with a host of countries, which is quite frankly why we have so many here.
Q: Is it possible to say if the vulnerability of the materials has increased since the end of the Cold War; has it decreased? Is there a danger that it will increase the more countries turn to nuclear power, nuclear generation?
MR. BRENNAN: I think one of the concerns is that, by definition, as you have expansion of nuclear programs, peaceful programs, there is going to be an increase in the nuclear byproducts that are -- that come out of those facilities, as well as the expertise that is available to run them.
And so with the increasing availability of nuclear programs or the increasing prevalence of nuclear programs worldwide, this is why we want to make sure that we're able to work with all the countries of the world so they can do their part. But the availability of this material is going to be a factor of how well we're able to plug those gaps, plug those holes, and address the vulnerabilities that are out there. But certainly nuclear programs are -- have increased over the last several decades.
Q: Just to follow up on the previous questions about the timing, should they get possession of this material, how long would it take a group like al Qaeda to produce weapon? I mean, is there any estimate? Because it seems not a very easy process anyway. Look at Iran and, you know, it's taking years. So what is your assessment in terms of timing?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, I've talked before about the various weapons of mass effect, whether it be biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear. Radiological, a dirty bomb -- this is a way that al Qaeda could try to carry out a nuclear-type event, but it wouldn't have -- it wouldn't produce a yield; it wouldn't be a nuclear blast.
So those materials may be available --
MR. BRENNAN: Mass effect -- well, you can have the psychological effects that are attendant to some type of WMD attack. And so a chemical attack, a biological attack, you can have tremendous effect, but the destruction in terms of lives might be limited. A nuclear attack, though, an improvised nuclear device, and that's probably the way they would go as they -- if they were able to acquire this fissile material, a lot depends on the material they were able to get, the expertise that they had, but I think they would be damned determined to try to move in that direction. They have already said publicly that if they acquired that type of weapons capability, that they would use it.
I don't want to test the proposition of that -- that they would take a certain period of time to create such a weapon. What we want to do is, again, try to focus on denying them the opportunity to use those materials for weapons of mass effect purposes.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: (Inaudible) -- terms of vulnerability, military, nuclear sides to the civil nuclear energy sector. What gives you the bigger concerns, that somebody steals nuclear weapons from a military site worldwide? Or rather, let's say, hijack, for example, the transport of highly enriched based? Which is often transported (inaudible) -- cities all over the world. What's the bigger concern?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, we have concerns both on the civilian and military side from the standpoint of facilities as well as transport as well as the security measures that are put in place at these respective facilities. Al Qaeda and other groups, including criminal groups, are going to be looking for what avenues present them the best opportunity to acquire these materials. And so they and a lot of these criminal gangs and terrorist organizations reside in countries where there are nuclear programs, including some that are part of nuclear weapons programs.
And so what we're trying to do is to make sure that we're able to stay several steps ahead of terrorist groups by working with these countries to make sure that they're able to button down their facilities, but also take the appropriate steps and to institute the protocols that are necessary that will endure over time. This is not just a one-time event here -- what we're trying to do is continue this process that's been underway for a number of years that we can truly help to safeguard these materials.
Q: Every day tons are transported worldwide. Tons.
MR. BRENNAN: A lot of things are transported on a regular basis. What we need to do is to make sure that it's done in the most secure fashion possible. And that's what part of the dialogue that is taking place with other countries to ensure that as they move materials they are doing it fully aware of the vulnerabilities and the potential opportunities that terrorists might use to take advantage of that transport.
MR. BRENNAN: This is a multilateral setting here where the heads of state and government get together to talk about their responsibilities. There are going to be a series of multilateral fora as well as bilateral opportunities where the discussions will be taking place about what the requirements are in order to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken. Sometimes countries are going to require resources. Sometimes they're going to require some technical support and assistance so that they can in fact put in place the procedures that are necessary.
So this is going to continue to move forward. We're going to be having these discussions. But certainly the United States is willing to work very closely with other countries throughout the world so that they can take the steps that are going to help protect them, their neighbors, as well as the worldwide community.
MR. GIBBS: Josh. You're going to have to speak up -- you're in a different area code from what it looks like.
Q: I understand that the U.S. sells highly enriched uranium to other countries from time to time, and is considering selling some to France right at the moment. Is that at odds or intention with your effort to collect it and put it under lock and key here?
MR. GIBBS: Josh, I'd have to -- I'd have to find somebody at NSC that has a better idea of that but I will check on that at the conclusion of this.
Q: Thank you. How many nuclear bombs do you think North Korea has?
MR. GIBBS: If you can speak up, I'm sorry.
Q: How many nuclear bombs do you think that North Korea has? And do you think --
MR. GIBBS: North Korea?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not, in a setting like this, going to get into discussing the type of or the nature of that. I would just say that you have seen this administration put into effect with the unanimous vote of the Security Council last year very strict sanctions to impede North Korea's ability to move that type of weapon or those types of materials and other types of materials out of their country through, again, a very strong sanctions regime.
Q: Are you thinking about creating a fund to help countries that cannot afford securing the material, that can assist -- a financial fund?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you may have more on this. I mean, obviously there are -- again, the Nunn-Lugar program, which has been highly successful at both destroying different types of weapons systems in former Soviet Union -- former Soviet countries. The President and Senator Lugar worked and a program was approved in 2006, largely as an -- basically as an offshoot of Nunn-Lugar, to deal strictly with conventional weapons.
So over the years, again dating back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then extended in 2006 with then-Senator Obama and Senator Lugar, a renewed investment on ensuring that conventional weapons also didn't fall into the hands of people that we didn't want to see have them. I think we were in Ukraine, again, in 2005, with Senator Lugar, and going through a facility that was very, very slowly destroying huge stockpiles of large munitions, big shells, the type of thing that honestly could easily be strung together to create an IED, the likes of which we're familiar with now in Iraq and Afghanistan -- again, huge stockpiles left over from a far different era, weapons that are not nearly the type of technologically -- of the type of technology that we see today, but again in the wrong hands could easily be used to do harm throughout the world.
Q: Why are you not going through the United Nations when there is a convention for protecting the nuclear materials?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that one more time.
Q: Why not going through the United Nations for -- there is a convention on protection of nuclear materials. It is kind of creating a parallel mechanism.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say the second part again.
Q: You're creating a parallel mechanism.
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- again, we're -- 46 countries are represented here, as well as a series of international organizations that the President believes are necessary to do this. So I don't think in any way this is duplicative. I think the President sees the strong concern for -- and John reiterated the type of -- the President reiterated the threat, John reiterated the types of groups that are seeking to control this type of material. And I think the President strongly believes that we must do everything in our power and that that is certainly not duplicative of what the United Nations seeks to do.
Q: Did I hear you correctly when you said that it's okay if the uranium is moved to Russia?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I simply said that that is one of the likely destinations for -- one of likely destinations for that type of material, yes.
Q: And also, July last year in Moscow, President Obama said that Russia was likely the next venue for the summit, the next summit. Is this something that's being considered?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we will have an announcement about the next -- the location for the next Nuclear Security Summit likely tomorrow.
Q: Did you speak with Saudi Arabia about it, and what's their reaction?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: Did you speak with Saudi Arabia about it, and what's their reaction?
MR. GIBBS: To?
Q: To Saudi Arabia, with what you're trying to do at this moment? I mean, do you have --
Q: Saudi Arabia.
MR. GIBBS: Saudi Arabia -- and did we talk to them about what? Talk to them about their participation here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we've got a wide -- we've got a great number of countries, again, I think many have shown that the greatest number of countries that have been invited and assembled in this country since the mid-1940s. We, again -- I would say to you that there are a host of roles that the countries represented here can play. Again, some have that highly-enriched uranium that we're seeking to secure. Others can play an effort in how to secure that. Others can play an effort in the interdiction of these types of materials in the event that they leave where they are.
So I think there are a host of different roles that each nation will play here. The President wants their strong commitment to securing this loose, vulnerable -- loose and vulnerable material over the course of the next four years.
John, I'll take one more and then we'll --
Q: I was intrigued by the (inaudible) on the part of criminal organizations to stymie al Qaeda's attempt to obtain material. I was wondering, Mr. Brennan, if you could talk a little more about what exactly (inaudible), how that's happened? And also is there a greater incentive or desire now than there has been in the past for the criminal syndicates to actually sell the material, or does al Qaeda have greater sophistication or ability to detect or stop themselves from being scammed?
MR. BRENNAN: I said there have been a number of instances over the years that we know that criminal organizations have tried to sell materials that they claim are fissile materials. Fortunately, most of these instances have been -- have turned out to be scams. Red mercury, other types of scams that are out there.
We know that al Qaeda has been taken by some of them, but we know that al Qaeda has not been deterred at the same time. And so they have tried to develop within the organization the expertise that would allow them to distinguish between that which is a scam and that which isn't. And based on, as I mentioned, there's a Jamal al-Fadl, who gave open testimony in court about the activities of al Qaeda in the mid-‘90s acquire uranium from Sudan as well as other types of information we have about their -- the people and their efforts to acquire these materials.
So there are individuals out there that are trying to sell materials. What we need to do is to make sure that none of that material is real. But we are also aware of instances where there has been serious concern that materials that are being discussed have the characteristics and composition of fissile material.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you, guys. Yes?
Q: Robert, Secretary of State Clinton and Senator Hatch's charitable remarks about her possibly being on the Supreme Court?
MR. GIBBS: Look, guys, we will have many weeks to play -- to spin the big wheel and play the name game.
MR. GIBBS: Many weeks. I've no doubt that I'll get many calls before 6:00 a.m. each morning. We'll play the name game. I will say this -- we appreciate Senator Hatch's addition. I think the President has identified in Secretary Clinton a job he thinks she's doing -- a capacity in which she's doing a wonderful job. And the President is going to keep her as his Secretary of State.
I would say this. I think the portion of Senator Hatch's comments that have gone less noticed are the comments that he thinks this has the ability and the potential to get done quite quickly. In terms of an announcement, obviously that's our part --irrespective of his addition today -- but I think it is quite constructive that we see from somebody as senior as Senator Hatch, the role that he's played on the Judiciary Committee of moving a nominee through the process in a way that gets someone seated for the next term of the United States Supreme Court.
END 2:40 P.M. EDT
Robert Gibbs, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/288138