Moderator: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today, we are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.
And with that, let’s get started. Under Secretary Jenkins, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
Under Secretary Jenkins: Just a minute. I just want to say first of all, it’s really great to be here. There’s so much going on in the world right now that it’s a great opportunity to be able to be here in Brussels to speak with my colleagues at NATO, but also to speak with all of you in the media who I’m sure also have a lot of questions. There’s just so much going on in the world right now, and of course the Russian invasion of Ukraine is – takes the most important part of everyone’s attention right now. But it’s also an opportunity for me to come to NATO to meet with Allies to talk about many other important issues that are going on in the world. And as you probably know from my title, my focus is really arms control and international security, so it’s also an opportunity to highlight those important issues.
But of course, also, we are coming away just recently from the NATO summit, and I think the summit really showcased our collective strength to meet the challenges of the world as it is today and the threats we’ve been facing and will face in the future. And at the summit, we really rallied around our allies to meet both the direct threats that Russia poses to Europe and the systemic challenges that China poses to a rules-based world order. But we also had a wonderful opportunity to invite two new members to NATO, both Sweden and Finland, which really is a historic act.
We also welcomed for the first time at the summit our partners in the Indo-Pacific to participate in a NATO summit. So we are bringing together democratic allies and partners from the Atlantic and the Pacific to focus on the challenges that matter to our future and to defend the rules-based order against challenges, including from the People’s Republic of China.
Also important is the fact that we were able to agree to a revised NATO strategic concept, which really reaffirms that NATO’s key purpose is to ensure our collective defense and defines the Alliance’s three core tasks, which are deterrence and defense, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security; and it also notes the strategic stability delivered through effective deterrence and defense, arms control and disarmament, and meaningful and reciprocal political dialogue remains an essential part of our security. And for the first time, the strategic concept discusses challenges posed by both Russia and China.
So we are working with our Allies. We will continue to work with our Allies and partners across the globe, really, to respond to today’s threats and challenges, particularly to Russia’s unprovoked and unjust war against Ukraine.
So the United States, as you know, has delivered unprecedented levels of security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself, and the contributions from a large number of other countries have also been critical to Ukraine as it fights for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. But as I referenced earlier in my opening, achieving U.S. arms control objectives has grown more challenging in the face of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and a range of other concerning actions by Russia and the PRC. Our arms control principles have not changed; they remain very important and we will continue to pursue arms control that addresses all of Russia’s nuclear weapons, and we are also pursuing arms control and risk-reduction measures to reduce the dangers from China and China’s growing nuclear arsenal.
So these are the topics that are utmost in my mind, and I’m very happy to open up and hear some questions from our participants. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We’ll now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. And our first question is a pre-submitted question that was submitted by Steven Erlanger from The New York Times. And he asks: “Iran is now at breakout readiness, with plenty of enriched uranium to make at least one if not several nuclear bombs. Is this wrong? And if it is correct, tell me how it is a great success for U.S. foreign policy. Thank you.”
Under Secretary Jenkins: Great, thank you. Thank you very much for the question. As I think we have made clear, since the U.S. exited from the JCPOA, Iran’s fissile material breakout time has been dramatically reduced from about a year prior to the U.S. exit from the deal to a matter of weeks or less. The Biden administration is seeking a return to full implementation of the JCPOA, precisely because we believe Iran’s nuclear activities should be strictly limited and fully monitored by the IAEA. So we continue to work on this effort. We still value the JCPOA and see it as the most important way in which we can achieve the success of trying to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question is also a pre-submitted question that we received from Paul McLeary at Politico, USA. And he asks: “Will the United States send inspectors to Ukraine to monitor how weapons shipments are being used?”
Under Secretary Jenkins: Thank you, Mr. McLeary, for that question. Just want to note that the United States very seriously – takes our responsibility seriously to protect American-origin defense technologies and prevent their diversion or illicit proliferation. So we are actively engaging with Ukraine to ensure accountability of assistance, even amidst the challenging conflict that we’re seeing and the environment in which it is operating. The potential for illicit diversion of weapons is among a host of political-military and human rights considerations, as well as the risk of battlefield loss, that are routinely assessed by the United States when evaluating any proposed defense transfer anywhere in the world, and particularly in complex environments as found in Ukraine today.
So we are confident in the Ukrainian Government’s commitment to appropriately safeguard and account for U.S.-origin defense equipment. So without getting into operational details, I can say that the United States engages actively with Ukraine’s Government to ensure accountability for the defense articles and security assistance provided by the United States. And actually, I just want to highlight that the most effective path toward reducing risk would be for Russia to end this war and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
Moderator: Thank you very much. And sticking with the topic of Ukraine, we have a question from Martin Jyllands-Posten from Belgium: “What’s the U.S. doing to counter the spreading of weapons donated to Ukraine in these months to criminals and terrorists outside of Ukraine? And which weapons in the – is the U.S. most worried might end up in the wrong hands?”
Under Secretary Jenkins: Well, thank you, and actually, that response is really similar to the one that I just gave, which is that we are continuing to work with Ukraine’s Government regarding safeguarding and accounting for U.S.-origin defense equipment. So just to note for both questions that, as I said, we are very confident in the Ukrainian Government and what it’s doing. We are working very closely with them in every way possible to safeguard and account for the equipment that is actually going into Ukraine, but we also recognize the challenging situation that exists. So thank you.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Our next question comes from Peter Fabricius from The Daily Maverick in South Africa. Peter asks: “Ambassador Jenkins, will you be discussing with your NATO and EU counterparts how to avoid a nuclear confrontation with Russia? Has the fear of such a confrontation inhibited the U.S., NATO, and the EU from responding more aggressively to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Thank you.”
Under Secretary Jenkins: Thank you, Peter, for the question. Really, the focus of the discussions is not so much avoiding a nuclear war with Russia as much it is about how do we continue to provide the assistance that’s required for Ukraine to defend its sovereignty. We recognize, of course, that Russia is a nuclear weapons-possessing state. We also know that Russia has raised some nuclear saber-rattling in the past – in the past few weeks. But we also recognize that we have a situation that we have to deal with on the ground on a day-to-day basis.
What I can say regarding the larger issues of Russian nuclear issues is that we continue to focus on issues of arms control, as I said earlier, and we did unfortunately have to suspend the strategic stability talks that we have with Russia as a result of Russia’s invading Ukraine. So we do have existing mechanisms that we want to get back to to talk about nuclear issues and those type of issues with Russia, but unfortunately, because of Russia’s invasion, we have not been able to do that.
So right now we’re focusing on the important issue at hand, which is to provide Ukraine the assistance that it needs to defend its territory, and that, in addition to longer-term issues of arms control, is what’s the focus of my discussions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. And I believe I’m not seeing any additional questions. Oh, I see we have – well, I think we have a follow-up question from Peter Fabricius from The Daily Maverick. So Peter, your line is open. You can ask your question.
Question: Great, thanks very much, Ambassador, and thanks for the briefing. I just wanted to ask, yes, as a follow-up – you mentioned that your focus in your discussions this week with your NATO Allies will be on providing sufficient weaponry to Ukraine. There’s been a general feeling that in spite of a huge effort by the U.S. in particular, and others, that Ukraine is still very far short of the amount of heavy artillery that it needs to counter the massive bombardments of its eastern cities in the Donbas region in particular, where Russia is actually making ground. And I just wondered if the U.S. in particular might have an intention to try to work with its allies to significantly upscale the amount of heavy weaponry that’s going to Ukraine. Thank you.
Under Secretary Jenkins: Thanks for the question, Peter. A couple of responses. First of all, we are continuing to provide Ukraine with what it thinks it needs, but also we are taking into consideration the type of equipment that we think is going to make – help them defend themselves but also help us ensure that we are giving them the right type of equipment so they are able to adjust to fit themselves. So this is the type of thing we are still looking at and still considering what’s going to be the type of equipment that we will continue to provide them in the future, but as I have said before, the best way to ensure that we are in – providing what they need and ensuring that we can follow up with what’s being provided really is to – for Russia to really – to stop the war that they’re having in Ukraine.
The second thing I wanted to mention is I don’t want to not give the attention to the work that – the other that I’m actually doing here. I mentioned briefly at the beginning the work on arms control, and I just want to highlight that in the strategic concept there are lots of references to the importance of arms control and deterrence and defense in the strategic concept. And so part of the discussions I’m having this week regards the importance of arms control overall in terms of NATO but in terms of the global community as we look forward also to the Non-Proliferation Review Conference that’s coming up in August.
Thanks for the question.
Moderator: Thank you very much. So I believe that is all the questions we have today. So Ambassador Jenkins, or Under Secretary Jenkins, before I close the call I’d like to see if you have any final remarks for the group.
Under Secretary Jenkins: I just want to thank everyone for taking the time to either submit questions ahead of time, to join us today and listen in to the conversation as it is a – we’re very pleased with the successful NATO summit that just transpired. We’re happy with the strategic concept document that was agreed to. And also, I just want to highlight the importance of the – of arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament work that I do, but also that we – we’re in a situation now that, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is a situation that can end if Russia would stop what it’s doing and would have from the beginning chosen more of a path of diplomacy.
So we’re hoping that we can have that situation come to an end and we can get back to diplomacy and engaging in the way that we think is the best way forward. So otherwise, thank you so much for this and for everyone listening in.
Moderator: Thank you very much. Shortly we’ll send the audio recording of the briefing to all participating journalists and we’ll provide a transcript as soon as it’s available. We’d also love to hear your feedback and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope that you can join us for another press briefing soon. This ends today’s briefing.
# # # #