Remarks at the High Level Meeting on Revitalizing the Work of the Conference on Disarmament and Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations convened by the Secretary-General, UN Headquarters

Gary Samore, Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for Arms Control
New York, NY
September 24, 2010


Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. On behalf of President Obama, I would like thank Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his initiatives to convene this high-level meeting. We fully support the Secretary General’s efforts to awaken the Conference on Disarmament from its many years of slumber.

In April 2009, in Prague, President Obama laid out his agenda for practical steps to move toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Since then, we have made notable progress, as a number of speakers have already commented on. This includes UN Security Council Resolution 1887, the new START Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States, President Obama’s updated Nuclear Posture Review the Nuclear Security Summit, and of course the successful NPT Review Conference.

In addition, the UN Security Council and the international community as a whole are taking strong measures against countries that are in violation of their international non-proliferation obligations and threatening international peace and security with their nuclear programs, while at the same time we leave the door open to negotiated solutions.

In the midst of this progress, the continued stalemate at the Conference on Disarmament sticks out like a sore thumb. In his Prague speech, President Obama announced that the United States will seek a new international treaty to verifiably end the production of fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. Such a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty – the FMCT – would contribute to disarmament and reduce the risks of proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Beyond that, we see the FMCT as the disarmament issue most ripe for serious negotiation and most capable of revitalizing the machinery of the Conference on Disarmament.

Once a respected institution, which produced such landmark treaties as the CTBT and the CWC, the Conference on Disarmament has sadly fallen into disrepair and disrepute after more than a dozen years of deadlock. Yet, it is vital that we have an energetic and effective multilateral forum in which to conduct international arms control negotiations and discussions. Therefore, we were highly encouraged when the CD responded to President Obama’s Prague speech by approving a consensus work program in May 2009 to begin negotiations on a verifiable FMCT, and to begin discussions on such critical issues as outer space, negative security assurances, and nuclear disarmament. We were ready with the other members of the CD to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the complicated and difficult negotiations for an FMCT.

Unfortunately, that has not happened. Instead, a single country – a good friend of the United States – changed its mind and has blocked the CD from implementing its work plan.

Now, we certainly understand that the FMCT would have profound security implications for countries, including the United States, that have unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. And therefore we understand and expect that these security issues would have to be addressed in the course of the CD negotiations, where every participating state will have a chance to defend its interests and ensure that the FMCT does not harm its vital interests. We recognize – indeed we insist – that negotiations in the CD must proceed by consensus, and that each state may decide whether to join the resulting treaty. With these principles in place, no country need fear the prospect of FMCT negotiations. It strikes us as unwarranted for a single country to abuse the consensus principle and thereby frustrate everyone else’s desire to resume serious disarmament efforts. We believe these negotiations will take years, so we think we should get started as soon as possible.

Mr. Chairman, the Secretary General has called us here today to discuss how to revive the Conference on Disarmament. We think the solution is right before our eyes. President Obama calls on all countries to show the political courage and the international spirit to agree to the May 2009 CD work plan and allow the FMCT negotiations to begin. We fully encourage and support the Secretary General’s efforts to follow-up this meeting, including in the UN First Committee and the UN General Assembly. If we cannot find a way to begin these negotiations in the Conference Disarmament, then we will need to consider other options. In any event, it is time to get back to work. The cutoff treaty is too important to allow the CD’s dysfunction and the interests of one state to dictate the pace of progress on disarmament. We must do better. Thank you very much.


PRN: 2010/192