• WHAT: New York Foreign Press Center On-the-Record Briefing

  • WHEN: Monday, October 7, 2019 at 11:30 am

  • WHERE: New York Foreign Press Center
    799 UN Plaza, 10th Floor (SW corner of East 45th Street and 1st Avenue)

  • BACKGROUND: Ambassador Wood provides an overview of U.S. priorities in the UN First Committee, including a focus on the security threats posed by Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Russia, and China to the existing international order. He outlines U.S. efforts to create the environment necessary for further nuclear disarmament, while highlighting the importance we attach to compliance with arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation obligations.

    Following his remarks, Ambassador Wood will participate in a question and answer session with journalists.


MODERATOR:  Good morning.  Welcome to everyone in the room, to those of you in D.C. who are joining the Foreign Press Center via digital video conference, and those watching via livestream.  We’re very pleased to have Ambassador Robert Wood with us today.  He is the U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, and the U.S. special representative for biological and toxin weapons convention issues.  I’ll turn the program over to him in just one moment.  Just a few housekeeping items:  Please take a moment to silence your cell phones.  At the conclusions of his remarks, we’ll open the floor to questions.  Please state your name and your media affiliation before asking your question.  And with that, the floor is yours, ambassador.

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Thank you very much.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Again, my apologies for being late.  A lot going on this morning.  I wanted to start off first by talking to you about this UN First Committee, which frankly is at a turning point.  What we have now is – unlike before – we’ve got two great powers, meaning Russia and China, that are now trying to manipulate the UN system to their own authoritarian advantages.  This is a major concern – it should be a major concern for all countries in the world.  They are trying to, as I said, change the international system in a way that suits their own very narrow interests.

One of the things that we will be doing – and this will be my primary objective here – is to push back on various initiatives that the Russians and the Chinese are putting forward.  Chinese and the Russians, as you know, have been very active with regard to outer space, in the cyber realm, and certainly in the nuclear realm.  And over the last 10 years, the United States has tried to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons, particularly in our national security strategies, while Russia and China have gone in the opposite direction.  And this is a great concern not only for the United States and our allies, but for a number of countries around the world.

As I said, we will be pushing back against them.  We will also be pushing back against other malign actors, such as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and – because they are now joining forces with these two powers that frankly, as I said, are trying to undermine the post-World War II international system that the United States and some others have helped to put in place.  And so this will be a very, very challenging First Committee for us.

One of the things that we will also be looking at – and this will be another priority – and this is promoting what we call a new era of arms control.  And by this, I mean – taking you back to my previous example about how over the last 10 years Russia and China have been going in the opposite direction in terms of developing their strategic and nuclear stockpiles, and the threats they pose, not only in their various regions but around the world.  And one of our objectives is to try to bring China into a trilateral arms control discussion.  China has benefitted from not being in the arms control architecture, and for a great – a great example of this is the INF Treaty.  China was not bound by the INF Treaty.  It was – they were not party to it, and so they’ve gone ahead and have developed systems that are not covered under any kind of arms control treaty.  So we feel it’s important to bring both Russia and China to the table, and we will be pursuing that.

We will also be pursuing an initiative we started in the last year or so called “Creating [the] Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.”  And this was in response – frankly, this initiative is in response to growing concerns about the state of the international security environment, and I’ve just mentioned two countries that have been key driving forces behind creating this very, very difficult international security environment.  So what we’re trying to do through this initiative is to sit down with interested countries and talk about the things we can – the steps we can take to promote a much more – create a much more appropriate environment for moving forward on nuclear disarmament.  And so we had the first meeting of the CEND back in July, and it got I think very, very good response from participating countries, and we are going to have sub-group meetings of the CEND taking place in November.  And we hope that this initiative will lead us in a very positive direction as we move toward the 2020 NPT Review Conference that will take place here in New York.

So we think that this CEND initiative can actually serve as an essential building block for having a successful outcome at the NPT 2020 Review Conference.

So as you can tell, we’ve got a very busy agenda – the U.S. here in New York at the First Committee, and we will, as I said, be pursuing vigorously our opposition to Russia and China’s initiatives that we think pose real, serious threats to the international system as we know it.

So I’ll stop there, and I look forward to taking your questions.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  I am MariTi Lovell with Kyodo News.  I just have a couple of questions.  The first one is on the CEND initiative.  I actually wanted to know if you could elaborate on that, because I know it seems a bit vague, a lot of what’s been read about it is just let’s talk, but we don’t know where the talks are going to go.

And I also wanted to know a bit more about what’s going on with the First Committee and how you guys plan on moving forward with that, because it’s been postponed now for a while and the issue has been with Russia and the visas, which isn’t anything new.  This has been going on since 2004, so I just wanted to know what are the next steps for that.  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Well, thank you for your questions.  The CEND initiative, to be a little bit more specific, was designed to bring together nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states and to have discussions about how we can improve the overall strategic security environment so that steps can be taken further in – with regard to nuclear disarmament.

So many of these are regional issues that need to be dealt with.  Many of them are thematic issues.  And what we’re trying to do is to line up – to create some sub-working groups that can tackle some of these specific issues that are impediments to moving forward on nuclear disarmament.

Dealing with the issue of trust, because trust is a big factor, you have to create an environment of trust where countries feel that they can take the steps necessary to move forward on nuclear disarmament but feel secure at the same time.

So there’s a lot of work that will be ongoing.  The initiative is new.  And again, we had a plenary, as I said, back in July, and it was a good opportunity to listen to countries and to see what their priorities were, to listen to suggestions for how we can address some common concerns that we have and then some regional-specific concerns.

So there isn’t a lot more I can tell you about it until we get into the real substance of it, and that will happen in November when the sub-groups meet and start taking on some of these challenges that, by the way, will have to be agreed by all of the parties.

So I think that the feeling coming out of the July meeting was that there was a – this was a good step.  Countries certainly want to see much more substance to it.  But I think the first – the discussions we had in July were a really good stepping-stone to making some progress on some of the other issues that are outstanding.

With regard the UN First Committee session, Russia has been trying to, in essence, hold up the convening of the First Committee on matters of substance because of this visa issue.  And we have made very clear that the host country committee is the mechanism for dealing with all sorts of visa matters.  And you’re right; these issues have cropped up from time to time over the years, and – but this time Russia, I think unfortunately, is bringing this into the multilateral context.

And we saw what happened at the UN Disarmament Commission, and we hope that we will be able to move forward on convening the substance of the First Committee, but we’ll have to see.  I know the chair is trying to work this with Russia, so we’re hopeful that we can come to some kind of resolution of this so that we can go forward and deal with the agenda that we have, and it’s a very fulsome agenda at First Committee.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador Wood.  My name is Alex Hassanein with Tokyo Shimbun.  Just a couple questions on First Committee and a broader question in general.

Upon the establishment of SpaceCom, President Trump referred to space as “the next war-fighting domain.”  Can we expect any new, exciting developments or disagreements in the outer space portion of the First Committee?

Secondly, the DPRK talks in Sweden seem to have ended on a bit of a sour note.  Can we expect a return to the right-of-reply exchanges between DPRK of the years past?

And lastly, on a broader note, is the existing arms control architecture having any effect on stopping an arms race?  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Thank you.  What was your first question?  I just —

QUESTION:  It was:  Upon the establishment of SpaceCom, President Trump referred to space as, quote, “the next war-fighting domain.”  Can we expect any new, exciting developments or disagreements in the outer space portion of the First Committee?

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Yeah, I think – thank you – the outer space portion of First Committee has always been very contentious, and this is because Russia and China have been pursuing initiatives, frankly, that undercut the existing consensus-based efforts that have been made at First Committee.  They have, as you know, been putting forward what’s called the “no first placement of weapons in outer space” as a sort of a political initiative, and they’ve also been putting forward – they put forward a draft treaty called “The Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space,” otherwise known as PPWT.

And we’ve said to them that, first and foremost on the “no first placement,” that there’s no means for being able to ensure that a country is actually not attempting to put weapons in outer space.  So there’s no definition for what a space weapon is.  And so we’ve said to the Russians and Chinese, let’s focus on those areas where we can build consensus.  And where we’ve managed to in the past support – jointly support initiatives was in the area of technical confidence-building measures.  And at this year’s First Committee, the United States will be putting forward a resolution on TCBMs that we think captures where the international community is with regard to these space issues, because they’re very contentious, and countries look at them very, very differently.

But we think trying to push initiatives, frankly, that are not verifiable – not effectively verifiable – and that undermine efforts to try to reach a consensus across the broad disarmament community on how to go forward in space and preserve space for future endeavors.  So this undoubtedly will be a challenging First Committee in that regard.  But we do want to work together with Russia and China and others, and we hope Russia and China will support our TCBM resolution so that we can actually take this issue out of the hostile realm and move into a much more cooperative realm.

With regard to – your question on DPRK, Saturday’s talks in Stockholm I think were good discussions, and frankly we are prepared to join talks in two weeks’ time.  The Swedish Government, that hosted the talks, in essence invited the United States and the DPRK to resume the talks in two weeks’ time.  And we’re prepared to do that.  We came to the table with some creative ideas for how to address some of these issues, and I think there’s a possibility to make some real progress.  But we’ll have to see what happens.

So the last question was —

QUESTION:  Yes, if the existing arms control architecture is having any effect on stopping an arms race.

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Well, the existing arms control architecture actually does work.  It’s not really the architecture that’s the problem.  It really is in many ways political will of the countries, for example, who belong to the Conference on Disarmament.  The problem that we’re having is that within the disarmament community at large, there are very deep divisions about how to go forward on nuclear disarmament.  And the so-called treaty to ban nuclear weapons has exacerbated those divisions and tensions.

And so what we have to do is we have to try to find a way to find consensus in areas where there is consensus to move forward.  And that’s why our CEND initiative we think is a good step in trying to move in that direction.  The ban treaty proponents unfortunately are going down what I believe to be a dead end, because having a treaty where you don’t have any of the nuclear weapon states or nuclear weapons-possessing states on board, that does not auger well for having any kind of nuclear disarmament.  It won’t reduce stockpiles by one single weapon.

So what we want to do, as I said, is to try to look for ways and areas where we can find consensus.  And I think – again, the meeting that we had in July in Washington of the CEND was a good starting point.  And I think we have the – we have the possibility of making much more progress in that, through that mechanism, than we do through a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

MODERATOR:  We’re going to take another question in New York, and then we’re going to go to D.C.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Ambassador, for this briefing.  My name is Sato from Japan TV NHK.  Follow-up question, follow-up to the DPRK.  Recently DPRK once again launched a missile, ballistic missile even though – inside the East Sea of Japan.  As a special representative of the U.S. Government, what do you see the current development of the DPRK’s nuclear and missile development?

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Well, of course – thank you for your question.  We are obviously concerned about these types of activities, and that’s why we’ve wanted to sit down with the DPRK and follow through on the commitments that were made by both President Trump and Chairman Kim in – at their summit in Singapore in 2018.  I think the talks that were just held in Stockholm were important, and we’re hopeful that the DPRK will want to continue in that way.

Again, there was a commitment from Chairman Kim in 2018 to – the denuclearization of North Korea, and we want to take steps, working with North Korea, to fulfill that obligation.  So you’re going to have ups and downs as these discussions go forward, but the United States is committed wholeheartedly to the final and fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.

So our hope is that over the coming weeks, the North will make some decisions about how and whether it wants to proceed.  The future is bright for the DPRK if it’s willing to live up to its commitments, and President Trump has made that clear.  We’re not going into discussions with North Korea with closed eyes.  We realize the challenges ahead.  But we do believe the dialogue that we’ve begun, that the President has begun with Chairman Kim, is the right way to go.  And again, we just – you’re going to have, as I said, these rough patches, but the important thing is that we – both sides sit at the table and work out how we can get to that final and fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.

So stay tuned.  We’ll see how things go, but we certainly are prepared to, as I said earlier, to return to Stockholm to continue the talks.

MODERATOR:  I believe we have a question in Washington, D.C.

QUESTION:  Hi, Robert.  This is Dmitry Kirsanov with TASS.  Long time.  Good to see you again.  Listen, I wanted to come back to the first question about visas not granted to the Russian delegates.  As you probably know, one-third of the – of Russian delegates to this UN First Committee session did not receive U.S. visas.  Now, I’m willing to give you a benefit of a doubt and ask you what exactly went wrong here, although on the surface it does look like a clear violation of the UNHQ Agreement.  And as you probably know, the Russians are now saying that since things like that are taking place, we should probably start thinking about moving sessions like that to Geneva or Vienna in 2020.  Do you have a comment on that?

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Thank you for your question.  I don’t have a comment on what the Russian Government is proposing.  We’ve said very clearly, we take our obligations with regard to the host country very, very seriously in this regard.  And visas are dealt with on a case-by-case basis within the context of U.S. laws and regulations, so this is an issue that, as I said earlier, that needs to be addressed in the host country committee.  That is the mechanism that’s been established to deal with these visa cases.  So my hope is that Russia will use that mechanism, and that we don’t let this issue impact the important work that we have to do at First Committee.  And it’s unfortunate that the chairman was not able to move forward today and that the session had to be suspended until tomorrow.  We have a lot of very important work to do at First Committee, and we should not let this issue get in the way of that.

As I said, we have a mechanism for addressing it.  The Russians are fully aware of that mechanism and have used it.  So that’s where I’d like to leave it on that question.

QUESTION:  Ambassador, you mentioned a lot of other countries —

MODERATOR:  State your name and affiliation, please.

QUESTION:  Oh, this is Behnam Nateghi from Voice of America Persian Service.  You mentioned a lot of other countries that are not part of the treaty, and you – as an example, you gave China.  But what about the other countries who are trying to enter this realm, like Iran, for example?  You mentioned North Korea, but has Iran anything to do with – in the discussions at the First Committee and other —

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Yeah.  I understand.

QUESTION:  — efforts for the non-nuclear – denuclearization?

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Well, first of all, we think it’s important that Iran fulfill its commitments to the IAEA.  That is essential.  Iran is probably one of the biggest challenges the international community faces.  Iran has bankrolled terrorism for a number of years.  It’s the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.  It’s the world’s leading state sponsor of hostage-taking.  We’ve seen what Iran has been doing in the Gulf region attacking oil tankers.  It attacked the Saudi oil facility.

The international community needs to be very, very concerned about this malign behavior, and we will be calling out that malign behavior during First Committee.  Its – Iran’s production of ballistic missiles, its export of those missiles around the region – this is of great concern.  Not just the United States but other countries are very, very concerned about what Iran is doing.  It is fomenting unrest all around the region.

And so through our sanctions and our maximum pressure campaign, we are going to make it extremely expensive going forward for Iran to continue this malign behavior.  We’ve said we are prepared to sit at the table with Iran.  Iran is clearly not ready to do that.  But we believe that our maximum pressure has been reaping benefits, and we will continue to put that pressure on Iran along with our – with other partners.  And hopefully, Iran will be willing to come to the table.  But yes, Iran is going to be a central focus at this year’s First Committee.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I am Lucentini of Affari Esteri magazine in Rome.  I would like to know if there is any voice of a new start of work on the disarmament plan that – between Israeli and Palestinians that President Trump had entrusted to his son-in-law.

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Thank you for your question.  The President has – and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have been working on a proposal to put forward to Israelis and Palestinians.  They will obviously put that down at a time they think is appropriate, because the President is committed to trying to help resolve these longstanding tensions between Israel – the Israelis and Palestinians.

So I don’t know when he will do that, but it will obviously be in consultation with other officials at the U.S. Government and, of course, in consultation with countries in the region.  So we’ll have to see how that goes.  But we are very committed to trying to bring an end to this decades-long problem between Israel and the Palestinians.  So if I answered your question there or not.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Do we have any last questions?

QUESTION:  My name is Yong Park working for South Korean newspaper Dong-A Ilbo, and I’d like to ask some follow-up question about North Korea.  And I heard there is – the United Nations Security Council meeting called up on tomorrow and then they’re going to discuss about the North Korean missile launching, recent missile launching.  And what is the U.S. position about that?  In this stages, the international community has condemned the launching or put another sanction on that?  Do you – yeah, that’s my question.

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Well, thank you for your question.  Look, I don’t want to get ahead of the discussion at the Security Council when that does take place.  But look, we are aware of the concerns that have been raised.  We have a lot of concerns about the behavior of the DPRK.  But again, that is why we wanted to, again, have these conversations with the DPRK.  This is what President Trump wanted to do from the beginning, was to try to put the – try to somehow frame this – a future relationship in a positive way and to give incentives to the North to return to the table.

But we realize this is going – this process is not going to be easy, as I said earlier.  We’re going to have these bumps in the road, as it were.  But it’s going to be very important for the DPRK to realize all the benefits that could come to the DPRK if it goes along the path toward denuclearization and that the country fulfills those commitments that it made in Singapore to President Trump.  So there’s a lot of work to do on this issue.  We want to get to work and start to make some progress on this.  But I really don’t want to get ahead of the Security Council discussion, if indeed it does take place tomorrow.

MODERATOR:  Well, I want to thank you very much for coming; Ambassador Wood, for your time today.  Today’s briefing was on the record, and we’ll share the transcript as soon as it’s available.  Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR WOOD:  Thank you all very much.

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U.S. Department of State

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