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U.S. Proposes Nuclear Ban at Disarmament Conference


The United States is pushing countries around the world to accept a new restriction on their nuclear programs. An American diplomat proposed a treaty today. It would ban nations from production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, material needed to make nuclear weapons. We're going to talk about this now with Joe Cirincione, who is senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress. Good morning.

Dr. JOE CIRINCIONE (Senior Vice President for National Security, Center for American Progress): Good morning.

INSKEEP: First off, a lot of people have the impression that the Bush administration is very skeptical of the idea of controlling weapons of mass destruction through treaties. How does this proposal fit into that?

Dr. CIRINCIONE: Well, the administration has not paid much attention to these kind of multinational forums over the past five years, and this seems to be a bit of a change. When a senior administration official - and Steve Rademaker is such - goes to Geneva to make a speech like this, people pay attention.

INSKEEP: This guy, Stephen Rademaker, is a top arms control official, and considered a pretty serious player in Washington, I gather.

Dr. CIRINCIONE: Yes, absolutely. And he's now presenting what may be the beginning of a determined administration push to negotiate this treaty. It's been hung up for past six or seven years, largely through both the inaction of the Clinton and Bush administrations, and the objections of some other countries. The U.S. seems to be wanting to give it another go.

INSKEEP: Well, now, how does this work, if it works at all? When we say banning the production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, what does it actually mean for a nation that would sign the treaty?

Dr. CIRINCIONE: Well, there are only a handful of countries that do this, but the fear is that new countries might join the ranks - for example, Iran - and this would be an international agreement that no country should enrich uranium for weapons use, or reprocess plutonium for weapons use. The five nuclear weapon states under the nonproliferation treaty - U.S., Russia, China, Great Britain, and France - have no problem agreeing to this, because we're awash in this stuff. The U.S., for example, hasn't made bomb material for a couple of decades now. This would mainly affect some of the new nations out there who are just getting in the business, including India, Israel, Pakistan, and of course - should Iran go down its current path - countries like Iran.

INSKEEP: What do those countries think about such a proposal?

Dr. CIRINCIONE: They have all said that they are in favor of it, but that's been an easy call since the treaty's been in limbo now for, since 1998. The U.S. has been in favor of it - the Bush administration has been in favor of it - but it's been locked up at the Conference on Disarmament, primarily by the demand of other countries that before they would negotiate this treaty, they wanted an agreement by the United States to negotiate other treaties, particularly a ban on weapons in outer space.

INSKEEP: So, the United States has found it easy to propose giving up something that it doesn't need anyway, and other countries have been easily agreeing that it would a nice idea, as long as it was only an idea. But now that it's serious, you're saying it could have some trouble?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. CIRINCIONE: That's exactly right. If the U.S. is determined to do this, it could help on a couple of fronts. For example, the U.S. nuclear deal with India is controversial, because U.S. selling reactors and other nuclear equipment to India would help India produce more bomb material. If you had a treaty like this, it could help get a commitment from India not to do so, greatly alleviating the main problem with the U.S. nuclear deal. Also, with Iran - if worse comes to worse and Iran does enrich uranium for fuel rods - having a treaty like this could be one more barrier to stop it from developing that material for nuclear weapons.

INSKEEP: Joe, good talking to you again.

Dr. CIRINCIONE: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

INSKEEP: Joe Cirincione is senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank here in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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