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Nuclear Security Summit

Nuclear Security Summit

Published on April 16, 2010
Press conference given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Washington, April 13, 2010

THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve just had two days of useful discussions devoted to the prevention of nuclear terrorism and more specifically to securing vulnerable nuclear material. President Obama himself chaired all the meetings. He did so with great conviction and great skill, keeping to the topics and the schedule. All the heads of State and government who gathered here agree in considering the threat of nuclear terrorism to be real, global, affecting both the South and North, no one is safe.

All the countries which gathered here agreed on the need for increased, ongoing vigilance with regard to stocks of civilian and military nuclear material and nuclear technologies. Given the revival of civilian nuclear power, it is essential for all States to acquire a culture of nuclear security.

France has made commitments. France is going to welcome an IAEA mission to assess the effectiveness of her arrangements. And France will host a mission at a nuclear site. We’ll be integrating nuclear security in all nuclear cooperation agreements with new countries. And we’ll offer training in the context of our future international [nuclear energy] school which I announced we would set up at the summit on civilian nuclear energy which France hosted in Paris last month.
We support the IAEA and its Director General, Mr Amano, who plays a key role in nuclear security issues. We are going to go further in our cooperation with the Agency since we will propose that the IAEA count and locate all radioactive material around the world which it has exported in order to check that it is secure.

Lastly, we want to strengthen the major international treaties: we will speed up ratification of the UN Convention on the Suppression of Nuclear Terrorism and the amended IAEA Convention on the Protection of Nuclear Material.

Every country here has made commitments and one ambitious commitment in particular – to securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the world within four years. I can give only a few examples: Ukraine, for instance, has committed to eliminate her entire stock of highly enriched uranium by the next summit in 2012. Several countries, such as Italy, Japan and the United Arab Emirates, have pledged to install systems to detect and protect their ports and airports against smuggled nuclear material. The Russians and Americans have signed an agreement to eliminate stocks of plutonium from dismantled Russian armaments.

Other countries such as Algeria have announced that they plan to bring in binding national legislation on nuclear security.

We must also think of the countries whose leaders would like to help terrorists prepare and carry out a nuclear attack by providing them with nuclear material, technology and explosives. Now, there’s a legal vacuum in this area since the International Criminal Court at this point does not cover this type of situation. Yet there are very serious deeds.

I have proposed that such deeds – i.e. when a State with nuclear technology delivers nuclear material or nuclear technology to a terrorist organization –, I have proposed that such a State be prosecuted and convicted by an international tribunal under UN auspices.

This can be done either by amending the statute of the International Criminal Court to broaden its powers or by establishing an ad hoc court to bridge the gap in international law. Today there is no possibility of punishing or demanding accountability of any country giving a terrorist organization nuclear technology or material.

President Obama, in his conclusion, said he thought this was a useful proposal. He has asked the sherpas, who will be meeting in Buenos Aires to prepare the next summit, to work with the UN Secretary-General on this proposal to fill in the legal vacuum. This matter will be resolved before our next meeting in South Korea in 2012.

Before answering questions, I would also like to say that we began this morning’s session with a minute’s silence in memory of President Kaczynski, the Polish President who died in tragic circumstances, as we all know. I will be attending the funeral for the President in Krakow and that same day the flags on all public buildings in France will fly at half mast as a sign of solidarity with the entire Polish people who have been so devastated by this disaster which has deprived this great European country of some of its leadership.

I will take your questions if you have any, of course.

Q – Is four years enough time to secure all the highly vulnerable nuclear material out there? Four years seems very ambitious, especially when there are countries which make an art of secrecy. I’m thinking of China, Iran and North Korea naturally.

THE PRESIDENT – That’s why, in my view, this summit President Obama convened is useful, was a very good initiative. We’ll see what the situation is in four years’ time but the mere fact of having a timetable and an ambitious objective shows awareness of the danger of such nuclear material falling into the wrong hands; I mean that never before has there been such awareness, and we were talking before 41 heads of State and government. I find this awareness extremely positive, and also the decision that we must act together. Not some against others. Not by mistrusting some but working together. And naturally France must set the example, and this why I’ve asked the IAEA to come and carry out checks in France.

You can’t be demanding of others if you aren’t demanding of yourself.
Nuclear terrorism has now been identified as a possible threat. The question of nuclear material and the necessary legislation to address it and mobilize the international community to secure such material has now been clearly articulated, and we have a timeframe of four years in which to continue the reduction of nuclear arsenals under the START II Treaty between the Americans and Russians, which France has hailed as a step in the right direction. And as the French must know, France was the first country to move in this direction – by giving up testing, dismantling reprocessing sites and being very transparent with regard to the number of nuclear weapons she had and reducing them substantially.

But it’s also clear, as I’ve said, that the responsibility of the President of the Republic is an institutional responsibility which makes him head of the armed forces and guarantor of the country’s security. With the world as dangerous as it is today, France inherited her nuclear weapons. She will not use them aggressively against anyone, nor offensively against anyone; but in order to ensure the security of a country of 65 million inhabitants in this world of ours, France can not lower her guard. She has shown the way, she has reduced her arsenals as no other country has done. She is transparent with regard to her military potential, but I must also be the guarantor of the security of the country, our country, our citizens and our national independence.

I also welcome the new American nuclear doctrine. I don’t want to say that it will be close to French doctrine, but it’s extremely interesting. We have done a great deal of work with President Obama’s staff and with Mr Obama. The concept of using nuclear weapons only as a last recourse, a new concept of the Obama administration as compared with that under the Bush administration, goes precisely in the direction of French doctrine. Moreover we’ve been following the development of this doctrine with our American friends for months. And in our case there’s also a question of national independence and of security.

Q. – Over the last two days have you detected a shift in China’s position regarding possible sanctions against Iran and does the prospect of these sanctions seem more important now?

THE PRESIDENT – I believe everyone is moving towards the idea that the current situation can’t go on too long. That the stubbornness of Iran’s leaders in rejecting tougher controls, in rejecting all the offers that have been made – first by President Obama but also President Lula’s attempts at mediation, and Prime Minister Erdogan’s –, this has led to nothing except the loss of time. I’m not saying that trying to understand one another is a waste of time. But in practical terms it has produced nothing. And there really has been a general realization that this state of affairs can’t go on much longer.

Secondly, we all want it to be the Security Council giving international legitimacy to these sanctions. It seems to me that a reasonable timeframe for achieving these sanctions at the UN is April, this month, or May, no later. (…)

Q. – I’d like to come back briefly to Iran. You said there were roughly two to six weeks to decide sanctions. If the Security Council countries don’t manage to agree on a resolution, will you be proposing to France’s partners to take sanctions unilaterally? Without the support, without the foundations of a resolution?

THE PRESIDENT – But in any case the question will arise because either – this is what I hope – we get a United Nations resolution, and inevitably it will be weaker than we’d like since we’ll have to get everyone on board, but it’s up to Europe and other partners, the United States, to ask for sanctions on this basis, or – I don’t want to imagine this –, we don’t manage to get a majority at the Security Council, in which case the problem is going to come up again. Even so, we’ll have to decide a number of things. So we really are coming to the end of a process, because what we’ve got to avoid at all costs is confrontation. To avoid confrontation, if Iran’s current leaders don’t want to understand, then there’s only the possibility of sanctions.

Q – I’ve got two questions, one on sanctions. In your opinion, are the sanctions on energy still on the table? (…)

And the second question is about nuclear security. I was wondering if you could tell us more about the contradiction, which seems obvious but perhaps you don’t agree, about the fact that there’s a conflict between securing nuclear material and the expanding use of nuclear energy in the world. (…)

THE PRESIDENT – (…) What matters is having a framework, a framework at the United Nations. Later, we can go into the details – there aren’t just these sanctions and there may be others. Let’s try to have a legal statute and retain the majority in the absence of unanimity at the United Nations. That’s our objective.

Next, we want the most effective sanctions possible. I’ve named some, and Bernard Kouchner others. We’re quite ready to discuss them, there’s no problem there, only modalities. What matters is to avert a serious international crisis. I’d like to recall all the same that the question of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons has been on the table for a long time, that it’s probably potentially the most dangerous crisis and that at some point something must be done to prevent confrontation. And at least we French will have the satisfaction of having continuously pressed for things to change.

I’m convinced that we’re close at this point to a consensus, as the blindness of the Iranian leaders is so worrying. To say this is to describe a real situation. It isn’t a joking matter. No one is against Iran, everyone respects Iran, who has a great people, a great culture and great civilization. Everyone agrees that Iran has the right to civilian nuclear energy. But the prospect of Iran acquiring an atomic bomb taken in conjunction with President Ahmadinejad’s repeated statements poses an extremely serious threat. It’s our duty to be concerned and to find solutions. I believe that this is one of the most serious crises confronting us.

And yes, the contradiction between the development of civilian nuclear energy and securing nuclear material. We’re trying to ensure that there’s no contradiction because we don’t want illicit development, we want development to be regulated. With increased powers and financial resources for the IAEA. Increased national regulation and tighter controls, but at the same time we don’t want to forgo the tremendous potential of nuclear energy – without CO2 emissions. So let’s not confuse the two. The problem isn’t nuclear energy, it’s terrorism. And the problem isn’t the quantity of energy produced but the fact that in the past it’s been produced a bit haphazardly. And there’s the problem of States which have dismantled and left stocks which no one is claiming ownership of, or responsibility in any case. So you can clearly see who I’m alluding to. Because the end of the 20th century saw an empire break up, and this has caused lots of problems. (…)

Q. – The Turkish Prime Minister and Brazilian President have apparently decided or proposed to put forward a new diplomatic proposal to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue. Was this subject discussed in your meeting with President Lula?


Q. – What do you think about this initiative? And secondly, still on the question of sanctions, on American television yesterday you talked about buying less Iranian oil. This is a new, very interesting idea, can you tell us a bit more about it?

THE PRESIDENT – You’re not making things easy for me because I don’t think it’s productive to go into detail on sanctions before getting a legal framework and France is fighting to get this legal framework. This is what’s important. Afterwards we’ll go into details. (…)

As regards President Lula, whom I saw with Bernard Kouchner, I respect his position. (…) He wants Brazil to reach out to the Iranians. This deserves complete respect, I have great confidence in him, I’m moreover very grateful to the Brazilians for all the trouble they’ve gone to, helping us vis-à-vis the really disgraceful situation Clotilde Reiss, our young compatriot, has been put in. So I’m not going to criticize President Lula for anything. But President Lula himself – I’m not his spokesman – is clearly aware that this initiative would be a last-chance initiative and that it’s got to happen extremely quickly. In a word, it even has to be consistent with the timeframe I took the liberty of presenting to you, i.e. April or May, to be as precise as possible. So even on this, I’m leaving the summit – it wasn’t a multilateral issue –, but I’m leaving more optimistic because I sensed – anyway, it’s always extremely easy and very enjoyable talking to President Lula – a genuinely clear understanding that time was now really short. (…)./.

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