Briefing with Scott McClellan on Bush's Approach to the Nonproliferation Meeting

May 2, 2005

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Q What approach is the President going to take at this start of the nonproliferation meeting? Is he going to play hardball or is he going to listen to the complaints or --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our Assistant Secretary of State Rademacher is going to be leading the delegation. He is at the United Nations, he will be making some remarks this afternoon. And I think he will talk about the important contributions that the treaty has made to global security and he'll talk about the progress that has been made over the last 35 years. And I think that one other area he'll hit on is that the vast majority of those who are party to the treaty are meeting their obligations, but there are some that are not. And I expect he will talk about one of the serious challenges that the treaty faces is noncompliance.

So I expect that he will touch on North Korea and Iran and their noncompliance. And he will also point to some of the examples of parties that have returned to the Nonproliferation Treaty, returned to compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty, like Libya. Libya is serving as an example that states can realize better relations with the international community if they renounce their weapons of mass destruction programs and they get rid of them, and Libya made that commitment and that was some important progress.

But I think that's kind of the areas he'll touch on. I think he'll also talk about the action plan that the President put forward in February of 2004. He outlined seven steps that we need to take to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. That is a very serious threat that we face in this day and age, and it's been a high priority for this administration. The Nonproliferation Treaty is an important tool in our efforts to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But there is also one area where the President has called for closing a loophole in the treaty that allows for countries to provide -- or to pursue civilian nuclear program -- pursue nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program and that is a concern of ours, particularly with a country like Iran.

Q He's going to ask for a closing of that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q A closing of any development of nuclear facilities?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we've called for closing a loophole within the Nonproliferation Treaty, and that's one area that the President focused on in the seven steps that he outlined.

Q Is he going to put pressure on India -- his friends, India, Pakistan and Israel to shutdown their nuclear arsenals?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think one thing that will be reemphasized or reiterated in his remarks will be that we believe in universal adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Q Here's a loophole. One of the goals when the President decided to invade Iraq was to send a message to countries that would seek to obtain or develop weapons of mass destruction, that that would not be tolerated and you don't mess with the United States. Well, since that's happened, and on this President's watch, the North Koreans have developed, built, and are now testing nuclear weapons on the order of maybe six; the Iranians are certainly not backing down from their program. So what has gone wrong? If the idea was to send a message by invading Iraq, the message has not been heard, and the strategy apparently is backfiring.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, these threats aren't something that develops overnight, David. So I think I would like to correct you in your question there.

Q I understand that, but there was supposed to be a kind of chilling effect that the Iraq war would have, and the opposite is true.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't necessarily agree with that. First of all, we believe that multilateral organizations ought to mean what they say, and that's something the President has made very clear. And that's important to making sure that those organizations are effective. But in terms of North Korea and Iran, Iran for some 20 years was pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program. They were hiding their activities from the international community.

We made a decision to support the efforts of our European friends to resolve this through diplomatic means. They are continuing to have discussions with Iran; we support the efforts of the European 3 as they move forward. And our views I think are very clear in terms of what needs to happen. We have a shared goal with the Europeans.

In terms of North Korea, let's keep in mind -- I think the latest public assessment that was released by our intelligence community was that they may have -- that we believe they may have one or two. That was the latest public assessment that was made available. And in terms of North Korea, nuclear weapons aren't something that are developed overnight. We know that in the 1990s that they came to an agreement and immediately turned around and violated that agreement. That's why the President felt it was so important to bring all parties in the region together in a multilateral, six-party talk process to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Q You're making a different argument here. I mean, what is the point of going in and taking down a guy who you thought had -- who had weapons of mass destruction and did not, while at the same time, other countries have developed theirs and are not taking any message from the invasion of Iraq. I mean, if the whole point of this foreign policy of this President is to prevent terrorists or rogue nations from getting really bad weapons that could do grave damage to the United States or our allies, we went into Iraq where he didn't have any. And now you've got these two countries who are --

MR. McCLELLAN: That was a choice that the regime --

Q -- thumbing their nose at the U.S. and are only more dangerous.

MR. McCLELLAN: That was a choice that the regime in Iraq made. And it is the decision of the regimes in these countries that they need to make a strategic decision to abandon their nuclear weapons programs. They have a strategic choice to make. And the international community is speaking very clearly to both nations and saying, you're only going to further isolate yourself if you take steps that run contrary to what the international community expects. And you will realize better relations if you pursue a course like Libya, and abandon your nuclear weapons programs.

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Q But, Scott, you talk about North Korea and Iran's noncompliance. Why not talk about the U.N.'s enforcement or lack thereof? The administration was pretty clear that it thought that the U.N. failed during the run-up to the Iraq war. Is there a risk that this conference comes up with nothing, or does not move forward with an appropriate enforcement action, and ultimately becomes further, sort of, criticism of the U.N. as a toothless tiger?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the conference is just getting started. I mean, it's going to be going on over the course of the next few weeks. Let's let the conference proceed, then maybe we can talk about it more at that point. But we have made some significant achievements over the last 35 years and believe it's an important treaty. But there are some issues and challenges that we need to address. And that's what our representative, who is heading the delegation, will talk about this afternoon.

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Q Ukrainian officials have said that the long-range missiles delivered to Iran were, in fact, stolen. If that is the case, and these missiles can be fitted with nuclear warheads, why is there not an international outrage that Iran should be forced to return these missiles to the Ukraine, given the gravity of what these missiles can do, immediately?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I'll be glad to look into this. I don't have an update from when you brought this question up last time. I'll be glad to take a look into it to see if there is more. But as I pointed out, one of our highest priorities is stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The greatest threat we face is weapons of mass destruction getting in the hands of terrorists. And that's why the President is acting on a number of different fronts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to go after terrorist networks.

Q Let me follow up. Is it feasible that North Korea could deliver a warhead now to Iran that could be fitted on a missile and then be fired, which only increases the need to address the problem immediately?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think one of our concerns with North Korea, without necessarily going into that specific issue, is that they were in violation of their safeguards obligations and their nonproliferation obligations even before they withdrew from the Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003. So proliferation is a concern when it comes to North Korea. That's one reason why we initiated the proliferation security initiative, and you have some 60 nations now working together to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to interdict shipments of -- that could -- shipments of equipment or material that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction. And we've had some successes on that front.

Q On North Korea, North Korea seems to have an intention to stage a nuclear test sooner or later or next month, June -- whatever they say. What is the United States countermeasure against a nuclear test?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, that would only further isolate North Korea from the rest of the international community if they took such a step. That's why we're working, through the six-party process, to get North Korea back to the talks. That's the only viable path that they have for moving forward to resolving this issue. And that's what all parties in the talks are making clear to North Korea.

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