The Cable

Samore: Arms control agenda linked to Middle East peace

Add the Obama administration's WMD czar Gary Samore to the growing list of top officials who believe that Middle East peace is a necessary precursor to solving wider regional problems, including the drive to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday afternoon, Samore tied the peace process to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, currently ongoing in New York, by saying that one of the key signs of success would be if "at least some progress" can be made toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

"We recognize and I frankly think everybody recognizes that in the absence of a comprehensive and endurable peace settlement, achieving the zone... is just not likely to be the outcome any time soon."

He then took the argument one step further and said, "The Obama administration is working very hard to try to push the peace process forward and it seems to me that's an essential element to making progress in any of these zones... It's hard to imagine how you could have an arms control regime in the Middle East without having peace and diplomatic recognition... it's a precursor to negotiations."

It's longstanding U.S. policy that Israel should eventually join the NPT, but it's also longstanding U.S. policy not to push Israel to change its stance of neither confirming nor denying its estimated stockpile of 100-plus nuclear weapons. Samore said he does not personally support Israel changing its policy of ambiguity and that no such discussions were taking place that he was aware of.

He also sought to set clear expectations for what might come out of the four-week conference, namely that the administration was not expecting all of the conference members to sign onto any agreement together.

"We believe that if a strong majority of countries support an outcome that pledges support for the treaty and supports practical steps for all of the three pillars plus language on the Middle East, that would be a successful outcome... even if that document is not accepted by the conference as a whole."

Samore also defended the U.S.-Russia civilian nuclear agreement, which the White House sent over to Congress Tuesday. Some lawmakers see the agreement as an undeserved reward to Russia, before that country has publicly committed to signing onto a strong Iran sanctions resolution at the UN.

He said the deal, known as the 123 agreement, won't come into force until later this year and he predicted a UN sanctions resolution would materialize well before then. And he doubted that Russia would go through with the delivery of the S-300 air defense system to Iran, which could also provoke opposition to the deal.

"We've made it very clear to the Russians that would have a very significant impact on bilateral relations and the Russians understand that the consequences would be very severe... I'd be surprised if those transfers take place," said Samore, declining to specify exactly what those consequences would be.

He also headed off another potential concern about the deal by saying, "As long as I've been in this job, there's been no concern about Russian entities providing nuclear assistance to Iran."

Samore said the START treaty with Russia will probably be submitted to Congress this week.

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Clinton, Karzai, Chile, Pakistan, China

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. These are the highlights of Tuesday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai launched the U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogue Tuesday with a host of meetings at the State Department. After a plenary session where officials made presentations to Clinton and Karzai, everybody split up into working groups, the subjects of which included: foreign policy and strategic issues, economic development, agriculture and rural development, human resource development, governance, social issues and women's rights, and security.
  • "We have clear plans for reversing the momentum of the insurgency and transitioning to an Afghan lead," Crowley said, "The Afghans came here with clear plans to strengthen their institutions and make durable gains in security, economic progress and governance, including anticorruption efforts." Clinton and Karzai had a bilateral meeting at the end of the day to go over the day's progress.
  • Pakistani citizen Muhammad Saif-ur-Rehman Khan was arrested at the U.S. embassy in Chile Tuesday after he tried to pass through security with explosives on his person. He was turned over to the Chilean authorities. "Obviously it demonstrates that our security in and around our embassies, you know, works very effectively," Crowley said. Apparently, he was applying for a visa and "we invited him to come to the embassy, to clarify the information that we had on him," Crowley said.
  • The State Department is considering designating the Pakistani Taliban as a foreign terrorist organization, Crowley said, in light of the Times Square bombing attempt and calls for such a designation by some Senators. "It is a group that we have been focused on or some time. But I think in light of the Times Square attempt, it's something we're looking at very closely," Crowley said.
  • USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah will travel to Kenya and Sudan this week for six days, his first trip to Africa. He will focus on the Global Health Initiative and the Food Security Initiative and meet with USAID staff on the ground to discuss Sudan's humanitarian development and peace-building missions, Crowley said.
  • Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell was in China Tuesday, meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai and other senior Chinese officials to prepare for the upcoming second round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Campbell also went to Burma on this trip. Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon arrived in Kosovo Tuesday to meet with senior officials there.

State Department