U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller: U.S. would very much like consult with Russia on how to irreversibly dispose of plutonium
Rose Gottemoeller, who is serving her final days in the post of U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and who will soon leave for Brussels, where she will take the position of NATO Deputy Secretary General, has given an interview to Interfax correspondent Ksenia Baygarova, in which she speaks about Moscow‘s recent decision to suspend the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement.Question: Was Russia‘s decision to suspend the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement unpredictable for you? Were you surprised, or it was just something you were waiting for?
Answer: Well, we weren’t waiting for it, clearly, but I will say that President Putin publically expressed concern about the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. Some months ago we felt it very possible to assuage the concerns that were expressed and were hopeful that we could continue to move forward with the cooperation.
Q.: But Russia ties the possible restoration of the agreement to several conditions, including the reduction of U.S. forces in Eastern Europe, the end of ‘U.S. hostile policy,‘ an abolition of the Magnitsky Act, the lifting of sanctions, and even compensations of loses for Russia. Do you think these conditions are realistic?
A.: Well, frankly, you really have to speak with the Russian side about the rationality of conditions, because we have been very clear, for example on sanctions, that sanctions will remain in place until Russia fully implements its commitments to the Minsk Accords, and Crimea related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine. I feel that in general it is in the interest of both of our countries to maintain our cooperation, as it‘s in our interest to maintain cooperation on weapons of mass destruction matters. So, the degree to which we can continue to cooperate on issues to do with reducing the material in the world, which is what the Plutonium Disposition Agreement is all about, reducing the amount of nuclear material available to make weapons. This is in our mutual interest. So, to me, it seems strange to put a lot of other issues up to this particular issue. Are we minimizing the threat of nuclear weapons to human existence or not? That‘s the core of the issue.
Q.: Is the U.S. ready to cooperate on this issue with Russia, just to start some negotiating process, or due to these conditions, it‘s impossible at this time?
A.: We‘ve been very clear that we would like to consult with the Russian side, on, for example, the method of disposition that we have in mind with regards to plutonium. It‘s true that because of severe cost overruns, the United States has been considering changing the method by which we would dispose of plutonium. You know the Russian side is well on the path to create MOX-fuel. It was turning out to be extremely expensive on the U.S. side, so we are looking for other ways to dispose of the plutonium. But the agreement does provide a path for the parties to consult and agree on different disposition methods. So, we would very much like consult with the Russian side on how to dispose of this plutonium in an irreversible manner, in a way that would fulfill the goals of the original Plutonium Disposition and Management Agreement.
So, we, as we see it, have a reasonable disposition method, and want to really consult and talk to the Russian side about the technical details of that, be completely open and transparent about it, and hope we can come to an agreement. So that‘s the bottom line. We believe that the method that we are proposing would allow us to quickly and effectively meet the goal of disposing of 34 metric tonnes of plutonium, and as I said before, we really regret that Russia, so far, has been rejecting offers to hold consultations on this matter.
Q.: Russia was saying that the U.S. did not inform it about these new methods…
A.: Well, I would say that we have been seeking consultation on this matter for some time. So, we have been pretty open and transparent that we would like to talk with Russia about our alternative approach, and very happy to provide detailed technical briefings, and we believe that we can make a convincing argument, but we haven‘t yet been able to hold consultations on this matter.
Q.: Does the U.S. plan to keep the facilities for plutonium disposal in South Carolina, or they might be closed?
A.: It is a matter for discussion with our congress. But the method that we are proposing would involve disposing of the plutonium not through MOX-fuel production, but through making use of means to combine the plutonium with other materials and store it. We believe that this would be an irreversible process, which seems to be the crux of the issue with our counterparts in Russia - that they need to understand that in fact this will be an irreversible process.
Q.: Do you have any concerns that Russia could use its plutonium for military purposes?
A.: I was actually very relieved the read the presidential ukaz [decree] that came out today because paragraph number three was very clear in saying that there would be no use of this material for producing warheads or for research and development work on nuclear warheads. So, that was a great relief to read that.
Q.: It seems that the non-proliferation and disarmament issues are now related to the political agenda. But even during the Cold War, the USSR and the U.S. were both trying to separate those problems from the political agenda. Are you concerned about it?
A.: I think that it‘s important for the United States and the Russian Federation to address weapons of mass destruction issues, as being in our mutual interest. It‘s important that both of us are working on the same goals in terms of non-proliferation and disarmament. It is one of our responsibilities to the international community. So, I think that it‘s very important that we both be focused on these issues. I very much have appreciated the partnership with Russian counterparts on these issues over the years, and frankly I hope that we can get back to that. We are not there at the moment, sadly, but I hope we can get back to more cooperation on these weapons of mass destruction issues.