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Secretary Antony J. Blinken’s remarks to the Conference on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreements

Secretary Antony J. Blinken’s remarks to the Conference on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreements

SECRETARY BLINK: Good afternoon. Secretary-General Guterres, President Zlauvinen – thank you – Director-General Grossi: Thank you all for your many years of leadership on non-proliferation.

I noticed that Japanese Prime Minister Kishida is here this morning as well, which sends a very strong message. Earlier this year, he reaffirmed Japan’s commitment to non-proliferation in a joint statement with President Biden.

And a very special thank you to the foreign ministers, the deputy foreign ministers, the teams that have traveled to New York for these meetings and to get us off to a good start.

It is great to be with all of you here in person today, especially – especially – given the critical role the NPT has played in maintaining the global non-proliferation regime.

More than five decades ago, at the height of the Cold War, representatives of 18 nations drafted the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

In the years that followed, almost every country on earth joined the NPT.

Countries introduced safeguards to monitor their nuclear programs.

Nuclear weapon states moved toward disarmament, including the United States. The number of nuclear weapons in our stockpile is now almost 90 percent lower than it was at its height in 1967.

The UN Security Council confirmed that proliferation posed a threat to international peace and security.

Entire regions—the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa—joined Latin America and the Caribbean in declaring themselves nuclear-weapon-free zones.

And we saw countries use nuclear technology safely and peacefully to improve the lives of millions of people on Earth.

So there is no doubt that NPT has made the world safer. But there is also no doubt that it is under increasing strain.

So we come together at a critical moment.

The DPRK continues to expand its illegal nuclear program and continues its ongoing provocations against the region. As we gather today, Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test.

Iran is still on the path to nuclear escalation. Although it publicly claims to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, since March Iran has been either unwilling or unable to accept a deal to achieve that very goal. Returning to the JCPOA remains the best outcome—for the United States, for Iran, for the world.

In January, President Biden and the leaders of the other NPT nuclear weapon states – China, France, Russia, Britain – all reaffirmed the principle that, and I quote, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The very next month, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And it is engaged in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling, with the president warning those who support Ukraine’s self-defense, quote, “risk consequences … the likes of which you have never seen in your entire history,” end quote.

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Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a brazen violation of international law, including the UN Charter, and it is also contrary to the rules-based international order that we all strive to uphold. But critically, and directly relevant to what brings us together this month for the NPT Review Conference, its actions also run counter to the assurances it made to Ukraine in 1994 in the so-called Budapest Memorandum, assurances of Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence that were essential to to give Ukraine the confidence to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited when the Soviet Union dissolved and which remained on its territory.

So what message does this send to any country around the world that believes it must have nuclear weapons to protect, to defend, to deter aggression against its sovereignty and independence? The worst message imaginable. And so it is directly relevant to what is happening here this month at the UN.

Most recently, we saw Russia’s aggression with the seizure of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such facility in all of Europe. Russia is now using the facility as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, knowing that they cannot and will not fire back because they might accidentally hit a nuclear power plant – a reactor or high-level radioactive waste in storage. It takes the notion of having a human shield to a whole other and terrifying level.

The United States believes that all nuclear-armed states have a duty to act responsibly. We have chosen to exercise restraint and avoid actions that could inadvertently raise nuclear tensions—for example, by refraining from previously planned ICBM tests and not raising the alert status of our nuclear forces in response to Russian saber-rattling. There is no place in our world – no place in our world – for nuclear deterrence based on coercion, threats or blackmail. We must stand together to reject this.

Together with the UK and France, we have issued a set of principles and best practices that should be expected of all responsible NPT nuclear weapon states, including that every effort must be made to ensure that nuclear weapons are not used again.

The United States is committed to reducing the role of nuclear weapons and reestablishing our leadership in arms control, and we have undertaken a deliberate policy review toward this goal. We will continue to emphasize strategic stability, seek to avoid costly arms races, facilitate risk reduction and arms control agreements where possible.

Any country that calls on others to reject the pursuit of nuclear weapons must also be willing to reduce—and eventually eliminate—its own stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

President Biden’s commitment to disarmament has long been clear. Just two weeks into his term, he extended the New START treaty with Russia to 2026, making our countries and our world safer by preserving affirmative restrictions on our strategic nuclear arsenals and avoiding an arms race. Earlier today, he reiterated his willingness to quickly negotiate a framework to replace New START, if Russia is prepared to operate in good faith.

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We continue to adhere to our policy of not using – or threatening to use – nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are parties to the NPT and consistent with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations. And we will continue to implement, to the greatest extent possible, the commitments in the final documents from previous NPT audit conferences.

And as long as nuclear weapons exist, the fundamental role of American nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attacks on the United States, on our allies and partners. The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons under extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners.

At this review conference, we hope to make concrete progress on all three pillars of the NPT – non-proliferation, disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear energy – and we will work with all parties for a successful outcome.

The world must reject the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

That starts with requiring compliance by all NPT state parties, ensuring that we have safeguards in place to monitor ourselves, and strengthening the IAEA’s ability to implement those safeguards. We encourage states to adopt a comprehensive safeguards agreement and an additional protocol, which together would represent the most stringent standard of verification.

If a NPT state pursues nuclear weapons, we must act as one to bring them back into compliance.

While we affirm that countries are not using their nuclear programs to pursue nuclear weapons, we must also ensure that those programs are safe and secure.

I commend Director General Grossi for his work in promoting the safety and security of existing facilities, and in particular for all he has done to prevent a nuclear disaster in Ukraine.

This review conference is also an invaluable opportunity to discuss how to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict and the chance of miscommunication during a crisis.

The United States is committed to pursuing a comprehensive risk reduction package, including creating secure channels of communication among nuclear-weapon states. We stand ready to work with all partners, including China and others, on risk reduction and strategic stability efforts.

As we look to the future, we must also strengthen agreements that prevent nuclear conflict – and create new ones.

To limit the growth of nuclear arsenals anywhere in the world, we continue to support the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. We are also ready to begin working with partners to restart negotiations this year on the long-delayed Fissile Material Treaty.

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Finally, we remain focused on improving the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Nuclear technologies are helping the world reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and combat the climate crisis, giving farmers new tools to increase yields and tackle global food insecurity, improve our ability to screen for dangerous diseases and prevent the next pandemic.

The United States wants to expand access to these essential benefits for NPT parties.

Together with the UK, we are launching the Sustained Dialogue on Peaceful Uses to find new ways to use peaceful nuclear energy technology to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

We also support clean energy innovation – such as small nuclear reactors – to combat climate change, ensure reliable access to nuclear power. At the G7 leaders’ summit in Germany last month, President Biden announced $14 million in funding to support the deployment of small modular reactor power plants in Romania, which will provide nuclear energy.

Now someone has asked about our new partnership with the UK and Australia, known as AUKUS. Through this partnership, Australia will acquire submarines. I want to stress that these submarines will be nuclear powered, not nuclear armed. Other countries have this type of submarine. And these will adhere to the highest security and non-proliferation standards under the NPT. We are working very closely with the IAEA to ensure that is the case.

When we work together across the three pillars of PT, we build on the efforts of so many who have come before us in this space.

Last month we lost one of those leaders: former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was deeply committed to nuclear non-proliferation throughout his career.

In 2016, Prime Minister Abe and President Obama made a historic visit together to Hiroshima – a place that represents the enormous destruction made possible by nuclear weapons.

There President Obama said – and I quote – “We must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them”, last quote.

Prime Minister Abe said this: “We are determined to realize a world free of nuclear weapons. No matter how long or difficult the road is [may] be.”

That must remain the charge for each of us here – to escape the logic of fear and live up to our responsibility to prevent nuclear conflict, reduce nuclear weapons, secure nuclear technologies, promote peace and progress around the world.

Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

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