THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ROBERT BELL, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR DEFENSE POLICY AND ARMS CONTROL
The Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everybody. It's a rare opportunity for you to learn about SPNFZ, and our first question of the day is who can tell me what SPNFZ is?
Q How do you spell it?
MR. MCCURRY: Anybody in this room? Good. And for that reason, Robert Bell, who is Special Assistant to the President, Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control at the National Security Council, is here and will just very briefly tell you about a significant development related to our effort to further a nuclear free objectives of our foreign policy that the United States, France and the United Kingdom today are announcing that they will sign protocols for the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty -- work in progress for quite some time. And Bob can walk you through the importance of that and how it fits with our overall strategy, especially as it relates to the South Pacific.
MR. BELL: Thank you, Mike. As Mike said, the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty will be signed by the United States, joined by France and the United Kingdom, in Fiji on Monday, March 25th -- that's Sunday afternoon Washington time. This treaty is only the third international agreement that provides for the military denuclearization of an entire region of the globe. The first was the Latin America nuclear free zone, which the United States joined in the '70s; and the agreement demilitarizing the Antarctic.
The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty was signed in 1985 by Australia, New Zealand and other nations of the South Pacific forum, and it entered into force in 1986. It covers a vast region that stretches from Australia on the west, to the Galapagos Islands in the east, and from the Equator south to just above the Antarctic Circle.
The treaty has three protocols which are described in the fact sheet, and I won't got into that, but I'll be happy to take any questions you have. I would stress, though, that the protocols do not restrict the passage within the zone of nuclear arms ships on the high seas, or planes in international airspace. And each state in the zone is free to decide whether to permit foreign ships to make port calls or to allow aircraft landing rights.
The United States will sign these protocols without any written reservations. We will be proposing to the President that he submit certain declarations and understandings to the Senate for incorporation in their resolution of ratification; but we don't think that those declarations and understandings will cause any controversy either in the Senate or in the region.
The protocols will be signed for the United States by our envoy to Fiji, Ambassador Don Gevirtz. In his remarks, the Ambassador will be emphasizing that this treaty is another milestone in this administration's record of accomplishment in the area of arms control and nonproliferation, a record that now includes the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Nonproliferation Treaty; the entry into force of the START I Treaty; the ratification by the United States Senate of the START II Treaty; the ongoing negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty, which we are determined to have available for signature by September; the nuclear framework accord with North Korea; the visual material cut-off initiative that we're sponsoring in Geneva; the detargeting agreement that we entered into with Russia; and, finally, the denuclearization of three states of the former Soviet Union.
Also present at the ceremony in Fiji will be Congressman Eli Faleomavaega, our representative from American Samoa, who has been a strong supporter of this treaty. There are a number of other senators, including Senators Pell, Thomas, Inouye and Akaka, and leading members of the House on both sides of the aisle that have supported this treaty over the years. And for that reason we are very confident that once we submit that treaty for the advice and consent of the Senate, which will happen within a few weeks, it will receive strong bipartisan support.
Q Was this held off until the French testing ended?
MR. BELL: Well, Helen, as I noted, the treaty was open for signature in 1985. So there were decisions both by the Reagan administration and the Bush administration not to join the treaty. When the Clinton administration came into office in 1993, we conducted a review of nuclear free zones as a general principle and decided that if they met certain criteria we would be prepared to go forward.
In 1994 we did a review of SPNFZ and came to the conclusion that there was no reason not to go ahead and formally join it. The United States has been acting consistent with its provisions since 1985, and since then it's just been a question of timing, and we're delighted now to be able to do it in a way in which we are joined by France and Britain so that these three remaining nuclear powers -- Russia and China already having acceded to SPNFZ -- can come into this treaty formally.
Q Can you walk through the reasons for the previous administration's reservations? And what, if anything, changed to accommodate -- to make this administration feel it could go ahead?
MR. BELL: I think, at least in the case of the Reagan administration when Richard Perle was sort of the leading voice on this treaty -- in opposition to the treaty -- there were three concerns. One was that we would break ranks with France, because this requires an end to all testing in that region, and that region is where France has conducted its testing. The second was that it might create a disincentive for our own program, which lasted until the Clinton administration, preserving the technical capability to resume atmospheric nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. And third, the Reagan administration was concerned, particularly at the time of the INF deployments in Europe, that if we showed support for a nuclear free zone in the South Pacific it might have a contagious effect in Europe.
Now, we believe, and in our review, with the end of the Cold War and all of these milestones that I have articulated in terms of arms control and disarmament, and the French decision to end nuclear testing permanently, that there is no barrier whatsoever to formally coming into this treaty regime.
Q In past years, as you know, the governments of Australia and New Zealand have pushed very hard for this treaty. Did their pressure have any effect on this?
MR. BELL: Well, we were, of course, happy to join ranks with Australia and New Zealand on this now. But the decision was made based on the criteria that we identified in our 1993 review and our 1994 review of this treaty specifically, about what we expected from nuclear free zones, and it met all of our national security requirements and thus made it a candidate for acting on.
When the treaty was negotiated at the time, the Australian government went great lengths to try to accommodate U.S. security requirements in the region, but they failed to persuade the previous two administrations that that test had been made. We were persuaded that they had met that test.
Q Does this open the way for visits to Australia and New Zealand by the President?
MR. BELL: I can't comment on that, Connie. I just don't know the linkage, I'm sorry.
Q Well, I wondered if this would be a nice time for him to get away from the campaign and go down there and visit.
Q Why not go to Fiji?
Q How does this affect policy for the U.S. Navy and vessels that may or may not be carrying nuclear weapons, and disclosure to the New Zealanders or the Australians about what is aboard the vessel?
MR. BELL: When the treaty was negotiated, some parties, including New Zealand, pressed very hard to have the treaty incorporate the New Zealand position on that issue into the treaty itself. And as you know the New Zealand position is that no ship can come into their ports unless the captain of the ship discloses whether there is nuclear weapons or nuclear power on the ship.
Since our policy remains to neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons on our ships or at any specific location, we have not been able to cross that divide with the New Zealanders and we do not make port calls into their ports. When the treaty was negotiated, though, Australia and the other members of the South Pacific forum turned back that effort by New Zealand. And as I said at the top, under the treaty each state is free to decide whether to allow foreign visits by ships or aircraft.
Therefore, as long as the host nation does not demand that we confirm or deny the existence of nuclear weapons, there is no impediment here to U.S. Naval vessels going into Australia, for example.
Q Are we going to take -- are we going to send our nuclear ships and subs in and out of this area? Or are we now saying we're not going to do that -- not make port calls, but go within the general SPNFZ?
MR. BELL: Again, as I said in my intro, there is no restriction, whatsoever -- and I want to emphasize this -- no restriction whatsoever in this treaty to the right of passage of nuclear-armed ships or aircraft through the zone, either on the high seas or in international airspace. And we will inform the Senate of that and ask them to include in the resolution of ratification an understanding making explicit that interpretation of the treaty, which none of the members of the treaty contest.
Q This is about testing and/or other use, right?
MR. BELL: It's about testing in the region, and it's about stationing -- the permanent stationing, if you will -- of nuclear weapons on any of the states or territories in the region. Stationing in our view does not extend to passage, transit rights, and we will make that clear at the time of ratification.
Q What's the next region you hope to make nuclear -- MR. BELL: The next issue on the docket for this
administration is African nuclear free zone, which will be open for signature in Cairo on April 11th. And the administration is in the final stages of its review of that treaty. At the U.N. General Assembly session last fall we joined consensus in a resolution that called on states to join that regime, but we're still finalizing some of the details in our case.
Q What would our view be of submarines that patrol waters within the area that are nuclear-powered and/or nuclear-armed, though not stationary?
MR. BELL: There's no restriction on that whatsoever.
Q So they're not considered stationary as long as they're moving; is that right?
MR. BELL: As long as they're in international waters. The treaty does restrict -- well, the treaty applies to inland waters but, again, it's up to each state -- in the case of a port, let's say -- to decide its policy on letting foreign ships come into port.
Q So it doesn't apply in international waters, at all?
MR. BELL: It does not apply to international waters in terms of rights of passage. The treaty has a broad scope geographically in that it prohibits the dumping of radioactive materials in the open oceans, and we are accepting that obligation in joining these protocols.
Q Do you expect Senate passage, ratification?
MR. BELL: I certainly hope so. Our first and immediate priority is the chemical weapons convention. And the Foreign Relations Committee is going to be having a hearing next week with Secretary Perry, Secretary Christopher and General Shalikashvili. We hope to have that on the Senate floor in the month of May. But we don't see a reason, given the broad bipartisan support for this treaty, why it couldn't be handled quickly and routinely by this summer. For example, it has been endorsed by the chairman of the Asian Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Thomas, and by the ranking member, Senator Pell.
Q Do you see a nuclear-free world at some point in the future?
MR. BELL: The United States has accepted, both in its domestic legislation, the Arms Control and Disarmament Act of 1961 and in treaties such as the Nonproliferation Treaty, the vision of the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
That said, our policy as it's been articulated three times now in successive national security strategy reports, the most recent of which was issued last week, reaffirms that for the immediate future, at least the indefinite future, we see a continuing role for nuclear deterrents. To that end, we're maintaining a triad of nuclear forces and are spending substantial sums of money to maintain the credibility of our nuclear deterrent.
So we prefer to proceed in a step-by-step basis, START I, START II and then beyond the CTB and not be bound now to some time-defined step-down to a world that reaches zero.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:28 P.M. EST