THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR DEFENSE POLICY ROBERT BELL
The Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: It's a pleasure for me to have here in the Briefing Room to answer your questions today Mr. Robert Bell, who is the Senior Director at the National Security Council for Defense Policy and Arms Control. He'll also be able to tell you about some of the paper we'll have available at the conclusion of the briefing, a fact sheet on the announcement just made by the President.
MR. BELL: Thank you, Mike.
I'm going to read a slightly longer and more detailed written statement by the President to which there are attachments that will be available to you after the briefing and then take your questions. This is a statement by the President.
One of my administration's highest priorities is to negotiate a comprehensive test ban to reduce the danger posed by nuclear weapons proliferation. To advance that goal and secure the strongest possible treaty, I'm announcing today my decision to seek a zero-yield CTBT. A zero-yield comprehensive test ban would ban any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion immediately upon entry into force.
I hope it will lead to an early consensus among all states at the negotiating table. Achieving a CTB was the goal of both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Now, as then, such a treaty would greatly strengthen U.S. and global security and create another barrier to nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons development.
At the conclusion of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference in May, all parties to that treaty agreed to work to complete a CTB no later than 1996. Today I want to reaffirm our commitment to do everything possible to conclude the CTB negotiations as soon as possible so that treaty can be signed next year.
As part of our national security strategy, the United States must and will retain strategic nuclear forces sufficient to deter any future hostile foreign leadership with access to strategic nuclear forces from acting against our vital interest and to convince it that seeking a nuclear advantage would be futile.
In this regard, I consider the maintenance of a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile to be a supreme national interest of the United States. I am assured by the Secretary of Energy and directors of our nuclear labs that we can meet the challenge of maintaining our nuclear deterrent under a CTB through a science-based stockpile stewardship program without nuclear testing. I directed the implementation of such a program almost two years ago and it is being developed with the support of the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This program will now be tied to a new certification procedure.
In order for this program to succeed, both the administration and the Congress must provide sustained bipartisan support for the stockpile stewardship program over the next decade and beyond. I am committed to working with Congress to ensure this support.
While I'm optimistic that the stockpile stewardship program will be successful, as President I cannot dismiss the possibility, however unlikely, that the program will fall short of its objectives. Therefore, in addition to the new annual certification procedure for our nuclear weapons stockpile, I am also establishing concrete, specific safeguards that define the conditions under which the United States will enter into a CTB. In the event that I were informed by the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy, advised by the Nuclear Weapons Council, the directors of the Energy Department's nuclear weapons labs and the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command that a high level of confidence in the safety or reliability of a nuclear weapons type which the two Secretaries considered to be critical to our nuclear deterrent could no longer be certified, I would be prepared, in consultation with Congress, to exercise our supreme national interest rights under the CTB in order to conduct whatever testing might be required.
Exercising this right, however, is a decision I believe I or any future president will not have to make. The nuclear weapons in the United States arsenal are safe and reliable. And I am determined our stockpile stewardship program will ensure they remain so in the absence of nuclear testing. I recognize that our present monitoring systems will not detect with high confidence very low-yield tests. Therefore, I am committed to pursuing a comprehensive research and development program to improve our treaty monitoring capabilities and operations.
Thirty-two years ago, President Kennedy called the completion of the limited test ban treaty in Moscow a shaft of light cut into the darkness of the Cold War. With it, he said, the nation could step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. We did, and the world is a safer place because of it. I believe that we are ready to take the next step and lead the world to a comprehensive test ban. This would be a fitting tribute to all those, Republicans and Democrats, who have worked for a comprehensive test ban treaty over the past four decades.
Q Have the military officials, have they waived their earlier concerns that were reported as a result of the President issuing these safeguards? Are they happy and they can live with this comfortably?
MR. BELL: This is a unanimous recommendation from all of the relevant national security agencies to the President.
Q I would like to follow up a question I asked the President yesterday. Is the U.S. now actively working with the French to promote this zero-based concept? Have you made that change?
MR. BELL: We definitely will be. We have been engaged with the French, of course, in intense negotiations in Geneva for a year and a half on the CTB, including this critical issue of the scope of the CTB. Our position in those negotiations for those 18 months had been that all tests with nuclear yield except for one category called hydro-nuclear test should be banned. And the French were higher.
As you know, yesterday the French made an announcement that appears to suggest they're prepared to come to zero as well. So we may well be in harmony on this issue as of today. In the meantime, we've had a cooperation program with France in the nuclear area and we'll be continuing that to make sure that they have opportunities to exploit some of the technological options that will be available to us now through the science-based stockpile stewardship program.
Q Another follow-up because there's been discrepancy on this point. Has the U.S. offered to share its computer simulations with France so that France will not have to conduct its nuclear tests?
MR. BELL: Yes.
Q And what have the French -- because the French are saying two different things on that. What are they replying?
MR. BELL: Well, we do have cooperation with France. It's not an issue of whether there's cooperation. The issue has always been what types of cooperation are appropriate. And we will be focusing our energy in terms of cooperative efforts with the French on the ability to maintain confidence in the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons under a CTB that is a true zero CTB. That means there's no cooperation planned or envisioned, for example, to create new weapons types because we're not planning to do that.
Q Has that gotten through to Chirac because his spokesman said the other day the United States has not offered to share the simulations.
MR. BELL: I can't account for that spokesman's statement, but it is important that in the Geneva announcement by the French yesterday, they made clear that they were not intending to pursue new warhead types.
Q Do you have the sense that France is going to come to zero before or after they test the weapons they announced that they would test?
MR. BELL: There are two parallel tracks that are going on. One is the negotiating track, and as we read the announcement by the French yesterday in Geneva, which was foreshadowed by comments that President Chirac made on Bastille Day, they appear to be saying that in the negotiations they will agree to a definition on scope that is a true zero. Meanwhile, of course, the commitment -- their commitment to complete a CTB treaty and sign it is to do that in 1996.
The full-up testing that they've announced that is to begin in September and be finished by May at the latest, would be done in the Pacific at near full yield. That's a separate matter. What they're saying is that while the negotiate a true zero they'll conduct up to eight tests and then quit, presumably sign the true zero CTB, and be done.
Q Has the United States conducted any hydronuclear or other low-level tests since the moratorium went into effect?
MR. BELL: No.
Q But if the French get the U.S. computer simulations can they save face and back down and not conduct those tests?
MR. BELL: President Chirac has said the decision on the A-test is irrevocable.
Q Do you believe it is?
MR. BELL: Well, I think the President addressed that yesterday in his comment here where he said that we regret that they have announced the test and they know that we regret that. But meanwhile, we'll do our best to work with them now on a true zero CTB.
Q Presumably, this removes a major stumbling block. I mean, the President came out and repeatedly said he expects it will clear the way now for a treaty. How much assurance do you have that allies are going to -- people with nuclear weapons are going to endorse this?
MR. BELL: Well, among the declared nuclear weapons states -- of course, there are five -- the United States is now committed to a zero CTB. Based on the French decisions as announced yesterday, it appears that they're committed to zero. China has repeatedly said in the negotiations they would accept zero, though there's a side issue there. They're asking for the right to conduct so-called peaceful nuclear explosions, which we don't think is viable or acceptable. The British, of course, we'll be in very close consultation with on this. They no longer have a test site of their own, all of their testing has been done at Nevada. So they fall under this decision in terms of the opportunities for them. And then there's Russia. And Russia has been insisting on testing rights under a CTB well above zero, in the range of tens of tons. So that will be a major point of negotiation with the Russians.
If that hurdle can be cleared, there's no question that the rest of the world welcomes and will applaud this decision to go for a zero CTB. The larger negotiating problem would have been had the five declared states insisted on a higher threshold and had to sell that to the rest of the world, because in these negotiations in Geneva it's negotiation by consensus. And any one country can block agreement.
Q Some Pentagon officials had been recommending a loophole allowing a test of several hundred tons. Others were pushing for a loophole allowing tests of several pounds. Why were those recommendations rejected in favor of the zero option?
MR. BELL: I think that's a critical point to understand in terms of how this decision was reached. It's important to understand what the recommendation from the Defense Department was and what it wasn't. First, there was consensus among all agencies that once the stockpile stewardship program is fully implemented about a decade from now, there would be no requirement under any condition we could envision for any testing.
Now, that's an expensive program and Congress is going to have to provide billions of dollars in funding, but we're committed to that program. So the issue was narrow in the sense that we asked ourselves what do we do between now and 10 years from now when all of these facilities are on line?
Within that 10-year period there was no proposal from the Defense Department -- I repeat, no proposal from the Defense Department, to conduct a nuclear test just for the sake of conducting nuclear test. The entire debate and discussion was on an issue of a contingency -- that is, what if in the intervening 10 years you discovered a major problem with a particular nuclear weapons type?
Now, problems with nuclear weapons are discovered all the time. Some are minor; some are more major. So the issue even within that was narrow. What if a problem with a particular nuclear weapons type was discovered that was so fundamental that you had to remanufacture and engineer the entire design? And then there's even one point of narrowness beyond that, because you would have to ask yourself, is that a weapons type that's indispensable to the deterrent, or is it one that's old and going out of the stockpile anyway.
So we were wrestling with this extremely narrow contingency that between now and 10 years from now a problem with a critical weapons type would be discovered that would be so far-reaching that if you fixed it, and wanted to maintain confidence in the performance and safety and reliability of the weapon, you would need to test it at least to the boost phase, which would have required 500-ton threshold.
The Department of Defense's proposal for that contingency is to negotiate into the CTB the authority under those conditions to conduct those tests. The decision the President made last night and announced here today gets at that problem in a different way, but at lower cost in terms of our ability to bring home a CTB, because we concluded that the prospects of negotiating a 500-ton CTB were very remote.
The solution he's announcing today then is key to this pledge that in that contingency he would be prepared to consider withdrawing from the -- he would be prepared to invoke the supreme national interest clause that will be in this treaty that would allow you to conduct the necessary test.
It's a different way at getting the same problem. It's not a case of someone being overruled -- or one side winning out over the other in an internal debate.
Q Was there any consideration to the historical relevance of 50 years ago this week -- the conclusion of the atomic attacks on Japan in announcing -- the timing of this decision?
MR. BELL: No, we did not deliberately set any timing with regard to the meetings that was keyed to August 6th or August 8th. What we have done is work this very hard. We were -- in effect, we wanted to be sure that the nuclear nonproliferation treaty had been extended, which it was. We needed to wait and see who the new President of France was going to be, which was a factor in terms of where the French would be on this issue. With those two events behind us then, we engaged in a discussion in earnest, starting in late May, and worked it through in the normal way. And this is the point where we've come to a conclusion.
Q How many warheads does the U.S. have right now?
MR. BELL: Well, I think I'd better get back to you on that because, A, the answer could be classified, and B, it's an achingly arcane issue in terms of active versus inactive stockpile, and we'd better give you an informed answer later.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:25 P.M. EDT