Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday called on Russia to live up to its nuclear arms control commitments, accusing Moscow of “reckless, dangerous nuclear saber rattling” as part of its war in Ukraine and warning of the negative impact the war will have on this month’s conference to recommit to the importance of nuclear non-proliferation.
In remarks at the start of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations, the top US diplomat warned that the landmark agreement is “under increasing strain” due to not only the actions of Russia, but also of North Korea and Iran.
Officials have acknowledged the challenges that Russia’s war in Ukraine will present at the review conference – which is typically held every five years but had been delayed for two due to the coronavirus pandemic – and the prospects of all parties agreeing to a consensus document at the conclusion of the month-long gathering.
In his remarks, Blinken noted that Russia had joined with the other NPT nuclear states – the United States, United Kingdom, France, and China – in a joint statement in January emphasizing the importance of avoiding nuclear war and arms races, but “the very next month, Russia launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine.”
“It’s engaging in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber rattling, with its president warning that those supporting Ukraine self-defense ‘risk consequences such as you have never seen in your entire history,’” Blinken said.
Earlier on Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stark warning about the importance of the meeting.
“Today, humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” Guterres said. “We need the treaty on non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as much as ever. That’s why this Review Conference is so important. It’s an opportunity to hammer-out the measures that will help avoid certain disaster.”
Unlike in January, only three of the NPT nuclear states – the US, UK, and France – released a joint statement Monday at the start of the conference, in which they called on Russia “to cease its irresponsible and dangerous nuclear rhetoric and behaviour, to uphold its international commitments, and to recommit – in words and deeds – to the principles enshrined in the recent Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races Leaders’ statement,” referencing the one released in January.
Blinken said Russia’s war is in violation of the UN Charter, the rules-based international order, and the Budapest Memorandum – the 1994 agreement under which Russia pledged to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and Kyiv agreed to forfeit its nuclear weapon arsenal.
“What message does this send to any country around the world that may think that it needs to have nuclear weapons to protect, to defend, to deter aggression against its sovereignty and independence? The worst possible message,” he said. “And so it’s directly relevant to what’s going on here this month at the United Nations.”
“Most recently, we saw Russia’s aggression with its seizure of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such plant in all of Europe,” Blinken continued. “Russia is now using the plant as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back because they might accidentally strike a reactor or highly radioactive waste in storage.”
“That brings the notion of having a human shield to an entirely different and horrific level,” he said.
Blinken contrasted the actions by Moscow to those of the US, which he said has sought to avoid escalation “by forgoing previously scheduled 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, intimidation, or blackmail,” he said.
Blinken also called out North Korea for its nuclear provocations, noting that “as we gather today, Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test.”
The top US diplomat said “Iran remains on a path of nuclear escalation.”
“Although it publicly claims to favor return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, since March Iran has been either unwilling or unable to accept the deal to achieve precisely that goal,” Blinken said. “Getting back to the JCPOA remains the best outcome for the United States, for Iran, for the world.”
CNN’s Richard Roth and Samantha Beech contributed reporting.