U.S. Appreciates Kazakhstan's Nonproliferation Collaboration
by Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
As technology changed and new risks emerged, President Obama understood the need to reduce nuclear risks by calling for a world free of nuclear weapons and the means for making arms reduction happen, a senior U.S. diplomat says.
Three steps toward achieving that vision include reducing stocks of nuclear materials, strengthening security for existing stockpiles, and taking steps to keep terrorists, other criminals or the black market from obtaining them, said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Simon Limage in an address to students at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Almaty, Kazakhstan, during a visit there October 16.
Limage praised Kazakhstan’s collaboration in participating in the president’s Nuclear Security Summit to address the challenges of keeping the world’s nuclear materials and weapons out of the hands of extremists. More than 40 nations, including Kazakhstan, met in Washington in 2010 for the first summit and again in Seoul in March 2012. Limage is the deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.
Obama expressed his appreciation for Kazakhstan at his meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev during the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit in March. One of the major announcements at the summit was the trilateral Kazakh-U.S.-Russian collaboration to secure nuclear materials at the Semipalatinsk Test Site and prevent the materials from falling into the hands of smugglers and terrorists, Limage said. The test site in northeastern Kazakhstan was used by the Soviet Union to test Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War years.
When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union dissolved, Kazakhstan inherited a vast nuclear weapons infrastructure that included 1,410 nuclear warheads. President Nazarbayev made a “courageous and monumental decision” to remove all of the nuclear weapons from the country, Limage said. Kazakhstan worked closely with the U.S. Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international partners in the effort.
“We applaud Kazakhstan’s recent International Weapons Free World Forum hosted in Astana and appreciate Kazakhstan’s offer to host the next round of the P5+1 talks with Iran” (which includes the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany), he said.
Limage said the United States and Kazakhstan have been working together and with others to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear and radiological materials through the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. “In this vein, the United States is working closely with your government to provide physical protection for radioactive sources which could be used in a ‘dirty bomb’ and transporting sources that are no longer in use to secure storage,” he told the Kazakh students.
Limage said the United States recognizes Kazakhstan’s long history of collaboration on scientist engagement efforts through the International Science and Technology Center (ISTC). He noted that the main purpose for his trip was to begin negotiations on a protocol with the Kazakh government to ensure the continuation of the technology center and allow the headquarters to be relocated in Kazakhstan.
“Kazakhstan’s regional leadership on nonproliferation issues makes it an ideal location for the organization’s new headquarters,” Limage said. The ISTC’s governing board has already approved the upgrade of the ISTC branch office in Almaty to that of the center’s headquarters.
“We hope to soon receive a formal letter from the government of Kazakhstan inviting the ISTC to move its headquarters from Russia to Kazakhstan,” Limage said.
Limage emphasized the importance of reducing nuclear risks to the students.
“The United States has taken bold steps toward nuclear disarmament,” Limage said. “In February of this year, the New START treaty between the United States and Russia entered into force.”
That treaty, part of Obama’s “Prague Agenda,” will reduce the number of nuclear warheads each nation holds to the lowest levels since the 1950s, which is about an 85 percent reduction from the height of the Cold War period, Limage said.
“The United States is committed to continuing a process to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons, including the pursuit of a future agreement with Russia for broad reductions in all nuclear weapons — strategic, nonstrategic, deployed and nondeployed,” Limage added.
Obama highlighted in an April 5, 2009, speech in Prague the risks associated with global nuclear proliferation that were inherent in the current system, Limage said. While the Cold War period has long ended, the nuclear weapons systems generated during those five decades have not.
“In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up,” Limage told the university students.
The risks have increased because more nations possess varying degrees of nuclear weapons, testing had continued, and the black market trade in nuclear secrets and materials continues to occur, Limage said.