MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today, we are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.
Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. Ambassador Jenkins, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Thank you, John. Really appreciate an opportunity to be a part of this, and I always enjoy having an opportunity to talk to folks out there and answer some of the questions that they have to the best of my ability and to the degree that I cover some of the issues that may be asked of me. So just want to say it’s an honor to be here again. Looking forward to some of the questions that will be asked, and I’ll just turn it over to you, John. Let’s get started.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go straight to the first question, from Stuart Smith. He asks, “Russia seems to be deliberately ambiguous when it comes to whether they would use strategic nuclear weapons. Dmitry Peskov often points curious journalists to Russia’s published nuclear doctrine. That’s not much comfort, as it seems to provide for the use of strategic nuclear weapons when Russian territory is threatened, and from Moscow’s perspective, the four annexed new regions are under threat right now. What’s Washington’s understanding of Moscow’s nuclear doctrine, and are you confident you know where the red lines are when offering military aid and support to Ukraine?”
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, thanks for the question. I think, regarding the Moscow nuclear doctrine, what I’d really like to point out is just referencing the statement that was made by the P5 last year, basically that a nuclear war cannot be won and never be fought, and countries should agree to this. And so this is a statement, of course, that was made and it reiterates an agreement that was – a statement that was made between the U.S. and Russia but extended to the five nuclear weapons states.
So I want to highlight that statement in terms of understanding the Moscow nuclear doctrine, and all the concerns I know some countries have had and some people have had regarding Moscow’s strategic weapons. So I think I’ll leave it at that. Yeah.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to our next question – actually I’ll go to a live question from Jennifer Hansler from CNN. Jennifer, you have the mic. Jennifer, are you there?
QUESTION: Am I unmuted now? Sorry.
MODERATOR: You are. Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sorry. Appreciate you doing the call. Ambassador Jenkins, I wonder if there’s been any conversations with the Russians from the U.S. Government since the State Department found them to be in noncompliance with some of the terms of the New START agreement, and what do you make of the fact that they now seem to explicitly be tying their lack of cooperation to the war in Ukraine? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: No, there has not been any explicit conversations with the Russians, which is very unfortunate. As you say, we did have to note them in noncompliance because of the lack of coming back to us with a date for a meeting of the BCC of New START, and also because of a lack of inspections agreement with them. We’ve made it very clear to them, of course, that there’s really nothing that would prevent them from doing an inspection, and we very much want to have an opportunity to meet with the Russians because implementing the New START Treaty is so important and it’s important in terms of national security.
So our goal is to make it very clear in any way possible that we are ready to meet with them when they are ready to meet. It is unfortunate that they’re tying the implementation of this important treaty on strategic nuclear weapons to what’s going on in Ukraine. We had hoped they could decouple that from what – the Ukraine situation from the importance of implementing the treaty.
So that’s where we are right now. Of course we’re monitoring it and trying to engage them whenever we can. But the important thing is that we can get back to implementing this very, very important treaty.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to another submitted question from Jiha Ham from VOA Korean Service. “Ambassador Jenkins, at an event last year it was said that arms control can always be an option with North Korea. Can the U.S., the United States have a conversation with Kim Jong-un about arms control?”
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: I think the important thing here to focus on is seeking the – continuing to seek the denuclearization of the peninsula, and also to highlight the extended deterrence that we have and the ironclad commitment that we have to our allies, both ROK and Japan. So anything that we do will take those as a priority.
So we’re ready to engage in dialogue without precondition with that, and we’ve made that very clear to North Korea that we are ready to have dialogue with them without such – without any preconditions. So we want to focus on the desire to have the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. I’ll go to another live question. Alex Raufoglu, you have the mic.
QUESTION: John, can you hear me now?
MODERATOR: Yes, we have you.
QUESTION: Awesome, thank you so much, John, for doing this. Ambassador, Jennifer sort of asked my first question. I just wanted to follow up, because we heard from Russia a couple of days ago saying that Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov met with the new ambassador to Russia, Madam Tracy. Are you in a position to confirm that? Because they are saying they have been discussing New START nuclear arms control treaty. In that case, do you – can you fill us in a little bit on what exactly are they asking about and what is the U.S. position at this point?
And secondly, since I have you here, may I also get your reaction to the fresh news on Russian missiles targeting Zaporizhzhia as part of its eastern assault today and its implications, of course? Thanks so much.
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Yes. Of course, as the ambassador out there, as the ambassador in the country, you’re going to engage the officials in that country. So naturally our ambassador in Moscow would engage on numerous issues, as that’s the responsibility of the ambassador. I don’t know of any particular issues on START that she might be having with Russian colleagues. Of course, we all know what we want right now, which is to have a meeting of the BCC and to have inspections. And so anything that would be discussed would be of those two topics and the importance of implementation of New START.
Regarding the barrage of missiles, we recognize that the safety and security of the nuclear power plant is uppermost and very important. We know the International Atomic Energy Agency has been out there trying to do the job that they have in that respect. And it’s always concerning when you have missiles anywhere near a nuclear power plant, and I think we all know that, and that’s something that’s been in the news for quite a while now. So I don’t know myself what the situation is right now because I haven’t had a chance to follow up on that, but I would just say that it’s an issue that we’ve been obviously concerned about for quite a while now, and always concerned about the security and safety of the nuclear power plant and anyone there.
But as with everything else, I mean, a lot of this would stop if Russia would do what it needs to do, which is to pull out of Ukraine and stop creating a situation where a nuclear power plant is in a situation of being targeted like that and all the danger that’s happening there.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. I’ll go to another submitted question from Rosiland Jordan. “Apart from Russia, with which countries is the U.S. currently trying to update/expand arms control treaties, and how much progress is being made on imposing restrictions on the creation and use of nuclear weapons?”
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, the United States is part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and so we do – a lot of work that we do engaging on nonproliferation is related to that treaty. So in that sense we’re working with over 180 countries on issues related to nuclear nonproliferation overall.
So just to put it in that context, it’s a global issue that we work on with many countries. Obviously we have a focus on Russia, for obvious reasons. We’ve had some attempts to try to engage the PRC on these issues. But that’s the – but you have to look at it in a larger context. It’s not just – it’s not – Russia is an important issue here, but there are – but in terms of nuclear nonproliferation it’s really a global issue that we’ve been working on for many, many years.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. The next question is from Jakub Link. “Ambassador, the war in Ukraine consumes most of the post-Soviet large-caliber artillery munitions stockpiled by the Ukrainians and some NATO countries. Ukraine consumes more and more NATO-standard munition. Is the U.S. administration willing to increase its support for Ukraine and NATO Allies?”
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: I think the important point on this is that, as you know, the U.S. is committed to continuing to provide Ukraine with what it needs to defend its territory and its sovereignty. So as this war continues to move on and without Russia withdrawing and doing what it should do and abiding by international law, we will continue to do what we can to help ensure that Ukraine gets what it needs so that it can adequately defend itself.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We have one more question from Evgeny Orel from RIA Novosti. You’ve sort of answered it, but I wanted to give you the opportunity again. He asks, “Ambassador Jenkins, at the end of last year Russia decided to postpone the meeting with the U.S. delegation on the resumption of inspections under the START Treaty. Are the U.S. and Russia working to schedule new dates for such a meeting?” And I was also wondering, Ambassador, if there is an update that you could give us to either the chem-bio treaty or the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Just back on the other question, I would just say that the U.S. is very interested in engaging Russia to get back to the table on the BCC and the inspections. So we will be seeking ways in which we can do that. I think that’s the – just to say that it’s an ongoing concern of ours, and so we’re going to be looking for ways in which we can engage them on that important issue.
On I think it’s a general question on chemical and biological weapons and the Nonproliferation Treaty, just very generally, of course we had the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference last year, in August. We had a document that was agreed to by all parties to that treaty, and at the last minute Russia made it clear that they could not vote for it, and so we did not have consensus on the document. But we are very happy that we had a document that we think is something that we can work from. There was a lot of good things in that document that was agreed to by all the countries after four weeks of hard work, which was quite an achievement. And so even though Russia pulled out at the last minute and prevented consensus, we’re very happy and we think we have a document that we can work forward on.
On biological weapons, we just also had a Biological Weapons Review Conference late last year as well. One of the things that came out of that document, that review conference that’s of note is the agreement to have intercessional discussions before the next review conference. And the goal of that is to try to deal with some of the more contentious issues that have hampered the ability of the Biological Weapons Convention to really move forward and keep up with some of the changes that are occurring in the biological space. And so that was a very good outcome of that agreement, of those meetings, and also to work on issues of biotechnology and a number of other things. So the states parties to that convention will be working this year and intercessionally on a number of issues.
On chemical weapons, there’s a review conference coming up in May, and so we are getting ready for that review conference that will be taking place in The Hague. I want to commend the recent IIT report that was just released by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, where they noted the Syrian Government responsibility for the Douma attacks in 2018 and also highlights the role that Russia also played in that. So I commend that report to you. We are, as I said, getting ready for that review conference that’s coming up.
I also want to note that later this year, in the spring (*) , the U.S. will complete all – finally all the destruction of all of its chemical weapons. So we’ll be having a celebration for that hard, hard work that the Department of Defense and others have gone into destroying all of our chemical weapons.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We have one more question that came in from the Czech Republic, RFE/RL there. Still related to New START, but Mike Eckel asks: “Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov laid blame for the inability to resume New START inspections and/or a meeting of the BCC squarely at the feet of the United States, suggesting, among other things, that the U.S. was refusing to issue visas to some Russian diplomats to attend the United Nations meetings. Do you have a response to that, Ambassador?”
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: The important thing here is that the – what’s caused the problem is Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. I mean, that is really what’s created the issues with discussions that were going on in the Strategic Stability Dialogue prior to their invasion of Ukraine, and that’s what’s causing a lot of the problems right now in so many areas dealing with Russia. So that’s really – that’s where the blame really belongs. It’s not about the visas issues. It’s about Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and that has resulted in so many issues, including the fact that the discussions on the SSD ended as well as, as they are saying now, their inability to talk to us at the BCC. So that’s where the real issue is.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. I think we have time for one last question. We’ll take it live from Oskar Gorzynski from the Polish Press Agency. Oskar, you have the mic.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you for doing this. I have two questions, actually, if you can indulge me. First, you mentioned in the briefing that you’ve attempted to raise the topic of arms control with China. How were these attempts received? Because obviously China has been expanding its arsenal pretty quickly and there are concerns that if the PRC is not part of arms control, then treaties such as New START limit America’s ability to compete.
And secondly, in the last – latest package of assistance to Ukraine, you included the longer-range precision missiles, the GLSDB. And does this signal you’ve revised your thinking on that type of capabilities? Because President Biden has said he was rejecting the Ukrainian request for longer-range weapons because he didn’t want to – didn’t want Ukrainians to be able to strike on Russian territory, and he said that it could break NATO. So can you explain the reasoning? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: On the first question, as I – I guess I didn’t really mention before but I think we all know, China of course is building up its military capabilities, its nuclear arsenal, which has created a lot of concern from a lot – for a lot of countries. And the – what’s also concerning is we see not as much transparency as would be good or we’d prefer in light of this buildup.
So, as I mentioned earlier, what we have been trying to do is find ways to have a dialogue with China, and to do this through what we call risk reduction or crisis management discussions. Just to sit around – sit across from the table with our Chinese counterparts and try to go through some ways in which we can add some transparency and confidence-building so that we have a better understanding of what’s happening over in China and their buildup of military capabilities. We haven’t been successful to date in that effort, but that is one that we have been trying to engage.
On the long-range weapons, I think the thing I’ll just say very briefly is just to reiterate what I said before, is as we go through this long invasion by Russia into Ukraine, months after months, we continue to want to provide Ukraine what it needs for its own defense. And so we will look at – we will look at our equipment and what we provide accordingly.
MODERATOR: Ambassador, thanks for that. Unfortunately, that was all the time that we have for today. Thank you, everyone, for your questions and thank you especially, Ambassador, to you for joining us and taking the time.
AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Thank you. I appreciate it. And thanks to everyone for asking the questions.
MODERATOR: Shortly we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub – one word – @state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another press briefing in the near future.
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- Correction: (*) The U.S. is destructing all its chemical stockpile by Fall of this year