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Special Online Press Briefing with Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins – United States Department of State


MODERATOR:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants joining us from the Middle East and around the world for this on-the-record briefing with Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins. 

During this call, Ambassador Jenkins will discuss the recent announcement on the complete and final destruction of U.S. chemical weapons stockpile.  After opening remarks, Ambassador Jenkins will take questions from participating journalists.  We are only able to take live questions in English during the call. 

With that, I’ll now turn it over to Ambassador Jenkins for opening remarks.  Ambassador, the floor is yours. 

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Great.  Thank you very much for inviting me to this opportunity to talk about this historic event that’s just happened in U.S. and its contribution to international security. 

So, I want to thank all of you for joining today.  I’m really proud to say that the United States has safely completed the total destruction of all of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile.  As President Biden said in his statement last Friday, we are a step closer to a world free from the horrors of chemical weapons.  Not only is this moment historic, but it is an amazing accomplishment by the United States Government and all the dedicated individuals who, for many decades, worked to demilitarize and destroy the stockpile.  It further demonstrates the strong commitment of the United States to the Chemical Weapons Convention to rid the world of these weapons.   

It is also a significant milestone that exemplifies the importance of international cooperation and transparency in arms control and disarmament.  This is the first time an international body, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – also known as the OPCW – has verified the complete destruction of an entire category of declared weapons of mass destruction – an entire category.  I was a part of the U.S. delegation to the Chemical Weapons Convention in the 1990s when a treaty was negotiated, and our work has come full circle to realize this achievement.  I cannot help but be proud.  Recently, I had the opportunity to visit one of the facilities that worked to safely destroy the chemical weapons and spoke with the fantastic workforce there about their contributions.  They have been immensely impressive and dedicated to their work, and I am very, very grateful to them.   

As we mark this achievement, we must also recognize that the threat of chemical weapons possessions, development, and use still exist.  The United States will continue to support the OPCW through our engagements and financial support.  We will continue to work with states parties to strengthen this important international body and continue to call on states parties in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, including Syria and Russia, to return to full compliance.   

I must also mention that this past weekend marked the 500 days since the Russian Government launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  The United States remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself, and we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes so that they can continue to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity from Moscow’s aggression.   

So with that, I want to say thank you again to all my colleagues in the U.S. that have made this possible, including my colleagues from the Department of Defense that play such an important role in the destruction of these chemical weapons.  And with that, I’d like to – look forward to your questions and turn it back over to you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call.   

And with that, our first question goes to Mohamed Maher, who pre-submitted a question, from Al-Ain News.  And the question is:  In your perspective, Ambassador, how significant is the complete elimination of the United States’s chemical weapons stockpile in advancing global non-proliferation objectives?  Are there particular nations that the United States is actively collaborating with to foster their engagement in chemical weapons disarmament? 

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Thank you for that question, Mohamed.  And I pretty much said some of this in my opening remarks.  I mean, this is the first time that we’re seeing a complete elimination of a category of declared weapons of mass destruction.  In doing that, it is a great step toward non-proliferation, but also arms control and disarmament.  It shows the value of the Chemical Weapons Convention.  It shows you the value of arms control that the United States has been able to do this.  But it’s also of value not just to the United States, of course, but to the international community and international security in that it promotes the security of all nations as we all get rid of – as every country that had weapons got rid of these weapons, and also strengthening, as I said, overall arms control.  So in many ways, it is advancing non-proliferation, in that it was done.   

As far as working with other nations and particular nations, I just want to say, first of all, that this is part of the work of the OPCW, which is a multilateral organization.  And so all us are working together, not only in the achievement of getting declared chemical weapons that countries have possessed, but also making sure that we retain the object and purpose of the treaty and ensuring that countries do not develop and use chemical weapons.  So we work with many, many countries to pursue that overall goal and to strengthen that norm.   

There’s 193 states that sign and ratify the treaty, but we are looking at other countries to also be much more a part of what we are doing.  We know that Israel has signed but not ratified the treaty.  South Sudan and DPRK and Egypt are not party to the treaty.  So as we continue to strengthen the object and purpose of the treaty and strengthen the norm against chemical weapons possession and use, we also want to make sure that the treaty is universal and that we do ensure that countries that are not part of the treaty become part of the treaty.   

Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Thank you, Ambassador.  And our second question goes to Aya Sayed from Roayah News.  And the question is: “Despite the United States’s commitment to eliminate chemical weapons and the understanding that their use is no longer acceptable in warfare, why did it choose to supply Ukraine with clusters munitions, despite their potential to cause harm to civilians and being banned by numerous countries?” 

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Thanks for the question, Aya.  I think one thing to be made clear early on is that these are actually two separate – these two separate matters.  The destruction and elimination of chemical weapons that we’re talking about today is separate from the issue of cluster munitions.  So, I just want to make it clear to our listeners that they are two separate things.   

Just very briefly on cluster munitions, just so people have some understanding of this decision, we recognize, of course, that these munitions create a risk of severe harm from some unexploded ordnances.  But this is the reason why we have deferred for so long making such a decision.  There’s a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over the Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians, because Ukraine right now does not have enough artillery, and that is not really a situation that we are able to be in and want to be in.  

So, Ukraine would not be using these munitions in some foreign land.  This is their country that they’re defending.  These are their citizens that they’re protecting.  And they are motivated to use weapons that will help them achieve their goals but also minimize risk to their citizens.  So just want you to understand that we base our security decisions on what Ukraine needs on the ground, and Ukraine needs artillery to sustain its offensive and defensive operations.  Artillery is a core of the conflict.  We’ve seen significant increases in production in terms of artillery rounds that we can provide.  So – and this process will take time.  So, in the time that we’re trying to achieve those artillery rounds, this is a bridge to those supplies.   

So, I just wanted to be very clear that we understand the situation, and Ukraine has been very upfront that they will be very careful in how they’re using these cluster munitions.  But most of all, I just want to make sure that everybody understands that these are two separate issues, that the elimination of chemical weapons is not related to the decision about cluster munitions.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  And now a question from Khedija Habib from Asharq TV: “Does the United States maintain its concern regarding Russia’s use of chemical weapons in this conflict with Ukraine?”  

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  We are also – we’re very concerned about anything that might be happening to make the fight that is going on and Ukraine reaching its sovereignty much more challenging.  So, I just want to say, in general, that’s one of the reasons why we have been so persistent in providing assistance to Ukraine.  It’s because we believe in what they’re fighting for; we really want to help them protect their sovereignty.  And so we need to provide them what they need to do that. 

We are always, of course, as we talked about, like monitoring the situation, making sure that we are aware of what’s happening.  We know that there have been allegations of riot control agents made by Ukraine against Russia in Ukraine.  So, we’re monitoring the situation, as many other countries are – and particularly the OPCW, that has a concern about the use of riot control agents.  But beyond that, I should say that we are very aware of everything that’s happening and making sure we provide Ukraine what they need and to be focusing on anything that could be used against Ukraine as they try to protect their sovereignty against Russia.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  And the next question goes to the live queue, to Alex Raufoglu.  Alex, please feel free to unmute yourself and you can go ahead and ask your question.  

QUESTION:  Yes, really appreciate it.  Ambassador, thank you for your time.  Let me stay on that line that you just were talk about Russia potentially possessing chemical weapons.  In 2017, Russia declared that it had destroyed all of its stockpiles of chemical weapons.  But as you also mentioned, during the war we heard that – there were multiple reports that they were using chemical weapons against Ukrainian soldiers.  How much good faith do you believe that to be when it comes to Russia following this suit?   

And second question, since I have you here, let me get your reaction to the news that – news of the day that France is sending new longer-range missiles to Ukraine?  Curious if there’s any concern that the U.S. is lagging behind.  Is it time to abandon “we would give you whatever you want after you really, really beg for it” language?  Thank you so much.  

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  I might ask you to repeat the second question, because I think I missed the second part of that.  But on the – on – Alex, thank you for asking the question.  On Russia, yes, one of the things that we’re doing, of course, now that we have destroyed our chemical weapons – one of the things I do want to make clear that this is not the end of the story.   

And we recognize that we also have to remain and be vigilant, as I said earlier, to make sure that countries are – still are abiding by obligations that they’ve taken on as parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.  And as we know, Russia has used chemical weapons in the past, in the Skripal incident.  We are concerned, of course, about Navalny, as well.   

And so these are situations where we are – in the OPCW, along with countries – there still trying to – still working on – with Russia on that issue of chemical weapons use.  So that has not ended.  That’s something that we’re continuing to focus on in addition to our concern about use of chemical weapons in Syria.  So, I just want to make that clear.   

On the second question, you were talking about France providing long-range weapons.  But could you just say the second part of your question because I think I missed that?  

QUESTION:  Absolutely, Ambassador.  In light of France’s decision to provide new, longer-range missiles to Ukraine, I’m just curious if the U.S. is willing to expedite its decision to chip in with ATACMS and other weapons that Ukraine has been asking for a long time?   

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  What I could say on that is, is we have been very engaged with Ukraine, obviously, for a long time in terms of providing as much as we can of what they need to maintain their ability to fight Russia that is – that is on their territory.  So, we have been able to work and provide as much as we can.   

We will look at these decisions as part of our regular assessment of what we can provide Ukraine based on what Ukraine is needing.  So, these are things that we take into consideration as we deliberate on what Ukraine needs.  Of course, countries provide what they can based on their own internal and domestic decisions.  And of course, we look at some of those things in terms of what we provide.  So the best I could say now is that we look at these things as part of our – a larger package of what we think we can provide Ukraine.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  And our next question goes to Wael Badran from Alittihad Newspaper.  And the question is: “Ambassador Jenkins, amidst the numerous ongoing crises in the Middle East – including conflicts in Syria, Sudan, and Libya – how does the United States view the role of arms control measures in addressing these challenges and promoting stability in the region?  Specifically, in light of the recent announcement on the complete destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, could you elaborate on the efforts undertaken by the United States to mitigate the impact of conflicts and contribute to long-term stability in crisis-affected regions?”   

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  I guess, I mean, on this one I would just note that we look at arms control and crisis management from our perspectives in many ways that we can try to address regional stabilities.  In terms of arms control, disarmament, these treaties that we have – whether it’s on nuclear, chemical, and biological – multilateral treaties that have quite a number of countries who are part of them, including countries who might be in the region.   

And so these are the main ways in which we are working multilaterally with other countries to try to address arms control disarmament issues, weapons of mass destruction issues overall.  And we usually do it in this multilateral way.  So countries with – party to – to be party to these treaties have obligations to these treaties and have to do things as a result of these treaties.  These are ways in which we hope to promote some kind of stability and predictability when it comes to these type of – these type of weapons.  And hopefully, by abiding by these engagements and these obligations, that can lead to other ways in which we can prevent the proliferation of certain weapons in some of these regions that are – have less stability than others.  And that’s the main way in which we try to do that.   

There’s other – I mean, there’s other avenues that can exist to try to address regional stability that don’t fit necessarily within the area of weapons of mass destruction.  But certainly, these treaties – whether it’s disarmament, arms control, or nonproliferation – are ways in which we are trying to reduce the chances of instability with the use of these very, very deadly weapons in those particular regions.   

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  And our next question goes to the live queue to Dmitry Kirsanov from TASS.  Dmitry, feel free to ask your question.  

QUESTION:  Right.  Can you hear me? 

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Yes.   

MODERATOR:  We can.   

QUESTION:  Hello, Madam Secretary.  I was hoping to use this opportunity to ask you to talk a little about arms control and arms reduction to get back to the major address delivered by National Security Advisor Sullivan June 2nd at the Arms Control Association.  During his remarks, he said that – and I quote him – “And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework.  We are prepared to enter into those discussions.”   

I wanted to ask you to clarify this a bit, if this is simply some kind of theoretical proposal or you are about to engage in a nuts and bolts negotiations with Russia, because it’s my understanding that the Strategic Stability Dialogue that was suspended by the United States is still suspended.  How do you square the two?  And how do you – last but not least, Russia insists on the U.S. dropping its quote/unquote “fundamentally hostile course” to get back to the issues, to be able to get back to the issues like the New START Treaty and arms control.  How do you square all those things?  Thank you.   

QUESTION:  Thanks, Dmitry, for the question.  I mean, you’re right about the New START discussions, and just to highlight the reason why these were suspended mainly was because of Russia invasion of Ukraine, and that’s what really took the air out of the sails of the SSD ongoing process that had started in 2021.  I just want to make sure I highlight that. 

And I think what National Security Advisor Sullivan was saying is that it’s just to highlight and note that we are ready to have discussions with Russia.  Having said that, we understand that there are obviously obstacles to doing that.  One is, as I just said, any discussions about – from the SSD and New START, we are waiting for Russia to act in good faith here.  We’ve made that very clear in statements that have been made by our leadership.  And so that’s an obvious obstacle because it’s very questionable whether they’re acting in good faith right now. 

But beyond that, we want to signal that we understand obviously that there are obstacles.  We understand what’s happening.  We understand Russia’s own rhetoric when they’re talking about hostile course and what – obviously, the impediments that are being created because of their actions in Ukraine.   

With all that being said, I think it was important that there was a signal that was being sent that from the U.S. side there is the willingness to have discussions with Russia.  But of course, the situation will have to be ripe for that to happen.  But I think it was important to make the statement.  Thanks. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  And the next question goes to the live queue, Robbie Gramer from Foreign Policy.  Robbie, please feel free to unmute yourself and ask your question. 

QUESTION:  Hi, can you hear me?   

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Yes. 

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks so much for taking the time.  NATO leaders are convening today, and one big question is this risk about nuclear escalation over Ukraine.  So I’m wondering if you can talk about your views on the risk of Russia possibly using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine and how the U.S. is looking to deter that, if you still see the risk as low, if it could increase over time, especially if the battlefield situation changes, and what type of messages you’re sending to Ukraine – to Russia to try and deter that.  Thank you.   

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Thanks for the question, Robbie.  So, I think that we understand that there is – I mean, you have a leader like Putin who has made threats about potential nuclear use that of course has raised some – it also creates concern, obviously, in the international community.  But I think when you talk about – you talk about NATO’s meeting right now in Vilnius.  I think that – I mean, that in itself is a deterrence.  I think that the fact that you have the unity that I am sure Putin did not think was going to last in his – when he invaded Ukraine, that is still going strong.  You have Finland and hopefully Sweden very soon joining NATO.  You have the United States and other countries providing a lot of equipment to Ukraine.   

I think what you’re seeing is a lot of resolve.  You’re seeing a lot of commitment.  You’re seeing a lot of steadfastness – us steadfast, action by a number of countries all these days, 500 days after the invasion of Ukraine.  I think all of these are activities that are – that are deterrent factors to Russia to the actions that they’re doing and certainly is in Putin’s mind.   

So I think we have to look at what we’re doing, and it’s hard to say – and I think there’s always a lot of questions about what’s deterrence and whether there is deterrence.  We do know that a weapon has not been dropped yet.  We do know that there’s a lot that NATO is doing that’s showing its solidarity, and the U.S. and its commitment with other countries to keep providing Ukraine what it needs to win this war against Russia.   

So there’s certainly, in my view, deterrence that is taking place in terms of this war overall that factors in.  We don’t know how Putin’s thinking about what he’s going to do next.  But we’ve been very clear, I think, in terms of our viewpoints about the potential use of a nuclear weapon.  And so how that factors into his mind, I don’t know.  But the risk is there because they’re a nuclear weapon state, but we still have to move forward and give Ukraine what Ukraine needs to win this war. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  And we’ll just ask one last question from the pre-submitted.  And it goes to Omar Abdo, who would like more – who was asking that you please elaborate on your reasons behind the United States decision and the factors it considered when making this choice in terms of destruction of chemical weapons. 

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  For the chemical weapons? 

MODERATOR:  Yes. 

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Omar, yeah.  Well, the reason why we destroy the chemical weapons is, one, because we’re a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and so we’re obligated under international law.  Congress has also made it clear in there that we have to – we had a date Congress mandated we get rid of these weapons, I believe by September of this year.  So we have both the international obligation, we have a domestic obligation, we have a norm that we want to follow.  We think chemical weapons are a weapon of mass destruction and just not something that should be used.  And we agree with all these other countries who are part of the OPCW in the norm.   

We know that there are still countries out there who we have to – who have to re-address their use of chemical weapons.  But those are all the reasons why it’s the right thing to do, and we obligated ourselves to do that in the 1990s when we signed or ratified the convention, and Congress saw it right when they mandated that we get rid of these chemical weapons, and the international community saw it right when we all agreed to get rid of these chemical weapons. 

So those are many reasons why we decided to do what we did. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  And if you have any closing remarks or any last final words, the floor is yours. 

AMBASSADOR JENKINS:  Well, just first of all, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to all of the – to all of the listeners out there.  I do want to highlight again the importance of this moment, the destruction of all declared chemical weapons.  I think people haven’t talked about chemical weapons for a while and that’s actually a good thing, except for Russia and Syria.  I think you have most countries, the majority of countries, who are abiding by this, who understand the norm, who recognize the norms.  If there’s other countries that seek to develop chemical weapons, there’s a norm out there that we’ll continue to use, the convention.  And even for those not (inaudible) to the treaty, there’s a norm that exists.  And so we’re going to continue to promote that norm. 

But if you can remember the visions and the pictures of troops who were affected by chemical weapons in World War I, all those – all those pictures of the – of the troops walking one behind the other with their hands on the shoulder of the one before them because they – their eyes were wrapped up in a rag because they were attacked by chemical weapons and they couldn’t see where they were going – if you have that vision in your mind and you see where we are now, you see how much we’ve accomplished and you see just how much that’s a promotion for international security for the international – for everyone around the world.   

So, I just want to highlight the importance of this moment and how much we’ve accomplished.  So, I just want to leave with that. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ambassador.  That concludes today’s call, and I would like to reiterate my thanks to Ambassador Jenkins for joining us today, and thank all of our colleagues from the media for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at dubaimediahub@state.gov.  Thank you very much, and have a wonderful rest of your days.  

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