By Chris Schneidmiller
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Defense Department has authorized its Cooperative Threat Reduction program to provide for transit of materials that could be used in nuclear or radiological weapons, officials confirmed this week.
The State Department’s International Security and Nonproliferation Bureau in a May 10 Twitter message noted that Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “approve DOD Cooperative Threat Reduction global radioactive/nuclear transportation proposal.”
The Pentagon acknowledged the development but did not provide details regarding the scope of the proposal or the work to be done. There was also no word on whether it is connected to longtime Energy Department efforts to lock down or eliminate foreign stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.
“In accordance with DOD’s Cooperative Threat Reduction legislation, Secretary Hagel, with the concurrence of Secretary Kerry, made the necessary determinations to initiate a DOD Cooperative Threat Reduction program to transport vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials to more secure locations for storage or reprocessing,” Lt. Col. Monica Matoush stated by e-mail.
The sitting secretary of State is required under the CTR-establishing legislation to provide “concurrence” to any program activities outside of the former Soviet Union.
Then-Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) established the CTR program in 1991. Under the aegis of the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, it has helped to deactivate more than 7,000 nuclear warheads, and hundreds of ICBMs, bombers and submarines, among other projects.
The program has provided technical and security assistance for hundreds of nuclear weapons train transports, in which warheads separated from their missiles would be shipped to a final disposition point, according to Andy Fisher, a former spokesman for Lugar. Nunn-Lugar has also aided efforts to secure lower-level radioactive materials that could be used in a “dirty bomb,” he said on Tuesday.
“It doesn’t strike me on the face of it as a big shift of any sort,” Fisher said of the CTR transport program.
The program has in recent years increasingly expanded beyond former Soviet states. It faces an uncertain future in Russia, where officials have been reluctant to renew a bilateral threat reduction cooperation deal set to expire in June.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Wednesday submitted a bill that would provide $30 million annually to conduct Cooperative Threat Reduction and corresponding U.S. programs in the Middle East and North Africa, The Hill reported.
Three months after taking office, President Obama announced before a massive audience in Prague “a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” That initiative has been highlighted by two summits in which world leaders delivered dozens of pledges for advancing protection of atomic and radioactive materials.
The Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration leads U.S. work to remove those substances from potential weak points in other countries.
The NNSA Global Threat Reduction Initiative over the last four years has extracted all weapon-ready nuclear material from 10 nations. In total since 2004 it has removed nearly 4 tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium -- enough material for more than 140 nuclear weapons, according to an agency fact sheet.
Much of the material ends up back in Russia or the United States for storage or conversion to a form that could be applied to peaceful atomic operations rather than weapons. The Pentagon has supported those projects, including by providing Air Force C-17s for transport.
“The departments of Defense and Energy collaborate closely in threat reduction, including the transport of nuclear or radiological materials of concern, drawing on each department’s respective strengths,” Matoush stated. “The Department of Energy is negotiating high-priority transfers of material to more secure locations for storage or any necessary further treatment … and DOD has specific capabilities for secure transportation internationally. For example, DOD has unique airlift capability that can support these efforts.”
The National Nuclear Security Administration did not respond by press time to requests for comment on the situation.
By Douglas P. Guarino
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON – A Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing board is reviewing activists’ claims that plans to convert nuclear weapon-usable plutonium into reactor fuel in South Carolina do not include adequate security measures.
Watchdog groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Nuclear Watch South and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, argue that “the risk of plutonium theft would be increased to an unacceptable level” if a federal contractor does not make “fundamental changes” to its plans to secure and account for material at the Savannah River Site’s unfinished mixed-oxide conversion facility.
Shaw Areva MOX Services, which is building the plant, "proposes to rely on a computerized inventory system to meet certain NRC … regulations in lieu of conventional approaches that entail physical verification of plutonium items,” the groups said in a statement Tuesday.
Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with Union of Concerned Scientists, argued the company “is proposing a cut-rate approach for plutonium accounting that will make it much harder to detect a diversion or theft of plutonium before it is too late.” The “computer-heavy approach could also increase the vulnerability of their accounting system to cyber attack,” Lyman said.
A spokesman for Shaw Areva MOX Services declined to comment, but the company disputed the activists’ claims in a May 3 legal brief filed with the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. At hearings on their concerns last year, activists failed to submit any “evidentiary materials rebutting the testimony of MOX Service’s expert witnesses,” the company claims.
The watchdog groups “frequently refer to the [computer] systems as ‘substitute[s]’ or a second best choice for what they refer to as a ‘physical retrieval and inspection’” but “have not articulated precisely what they mean by ‘physical retrieval and inspection,’” the company said. The activists’ “suggestion that MOX Services’ proposed approach is second best is plainly incorrect, given the extensive testimony on the automation, reliability, and reduction of opportunities for human effort provide by the” system, according to Shaw Areva.
The contractor said its proposed system meets NRC standards requiring “a licensee to verify, on a statistical sampling basis, the presence and integrity of [sensitive nuclear material], with a 99 percent power of detecting losses of five formula kilograms or more, plant wide, within 30 days…”
The licensing board was to hear additional arguments from both sides during closed hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday in Rockville, Md. The hearings, along with many of the legal documents associated with the case, are off-limits to the public because they involve what the government considers to be “sensitive unclassified nuclear security information.”
If the licensing board rules in favor of activists and agrees that Shaw Areva’s accountability plan does not comply with NRC rules, it could prove an obstacle to obtaining a license for the facility. Many ASLB decisions are appealed to the commission and to federal appeals courts, however.
The legal challenge comes as the Obama administration is proposing funding cuts and a slowed construction schedule for the project. The White House has said the facility might ultimately prove “unaffordable.”
Activists have argued the United States should seek other means to meet the terms of a plutonium disposition agreement with Russia, such as converting the substance into glass-like logs through a process called vitrification. No nuclear power plant operators have publicly agreed to use MOX fuel, though Shaw Areva officials say some have expressed interest privately.
The U.S. Air Force on Wednesday conducted a trial flight of its Minuteman 3 ICBM.
The missile took off at 6:27 a.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to an Air Force press release. It flew thousands of miles before landing in the Pacific Ocean, the Associated Press reported.
The United States keeps 450 Minuteman 3 missiles in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. They serve as one leg of the U.S. nuclear triad of land-, air-and sea-based weapons.
Flight tests are intended to assess "the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system," the release states. "The test also supports U.S. strategic deterrence efforts as outlined in the 2010 Department of Defense Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), by demonstrating the operational credibility of the Minuteman 3."
The flight was delayed from April in an effort to avoid further raising tensions with North Korea, which at the time had threatened nuclear strikes against the United States, and then pushed back from Tuesday due to a technical glitch.
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved legislation to supply arms to opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, but it remained uncertain who could receive lethal assistance under the bill, Reuters reported .
Multiple reports have emerged of possible chemical strikes by Assad forces in the 2-year-old Syrian civil war. President Obama last year established use or proliferation of materials from the regime's sizable chemical arsenal as a "red line" that would demand a strong U.S. response, but his administration has responded cautiously to calls to intervene in the conflict.
The bill approved on Tuesday would permit the United States to train and supply weapons and other assistance to Syrian opposition fighters who "have gone through a thorough vetting process by the U.S. government, meeting certain criteria on human rights, terrorism and nonproliferation," according to a Foreign Relations Committee statement. President Obama could also authorize supplies of "antiaircraft defensive systems with strict limitations," the release states.
"I don't think we know who we're arming. And the truth is, it changes every day. Sometimes resistance fighters are fighting each other," Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who joined two other panel members in opposing the bill, said in the Reuters report.
The legislation would also enable the administration to penalize individuals found to have supported movement of weapons and oil to the Syrian government, and it would create a pathway for potential future leaders to free Syria from U.S. economic penalties by meeting "certain terrorism and WMD criteria," according to the panel statement.
In addition, the bill would provide $250 million in annual aid through fiscal 2015 to support early operations by a possible replacement government in Damascus.
Meanwhile, Israeli Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan on Tuesday said his country's cities are certain to face Syrian missile attacks that defenses could not fully block, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
A senior military official led a group of North Korean personnel to China on Wednesday for talks seemingly aimed at lowering tensions between the longtime allies, Reuters reported.
The trip by Choe Ryong Hae, a close adviser to North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un and vice chairman of the nation's lead armed forces entity, comes amid Beijing's frustration with Pyongyang's latest nuclear test in February and its detention this month of a Chinese fishing vessel crew.
"The Chinese people have been angered by North Korea's provocations. Certainly one of China's demands will be for North Korea to stop doing this," according to Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University's School of International Studies.
China is North Korea's lead trading partner and political backer. It is likely to call on the North to resume denuclearization negotiations last held in December 2008 with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, Jin said.
Choe's visit could also lead to a trip by Kim himself to China, the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, Japan is considering new direct discussions with North Korea that would address Pyongyang's kidnapping of Japanese citizens in past decades, Reuters reported. Such talks, which would follow a Japanese official's trip to Pyongyang last week, could also take up North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile work, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
The top defense officials from Japan, South Korea and the United States are due to discuss North Korea during the yearly Asia Security Summit, scheduled for May 31 to June 2, Agence France-Presse reported.
It has been four years since such a meeting. "If we don't hold a trilateral meeting, that would send North Korea the wrong message," according to a South Korean Defense Ministry official.
The United States appears ready to supply Oman with $2.1 billion in air-defense technology U.S. government personnel said would complement similar gear sold to regional partners including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, United Press International reported on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Oman on Tuesday, and defense contractor Raytheon was expected to formalize plans to sell the unidentified defensive apparatus to the country prior to the top diplomat's departure. Finalizing the sale and deploying the equipment is expected to take years, according to UPI.
The United States has been pushing to field weapons against airborne threats in partnered Persian Gulf nations as protection against potential Iranian missile strikes, the news agency reported.
Dismantlement of the Severstal and Archangelsk "is to be completed before 2018-2020 at the latest," according to a defense sector insider.
Russia has already eliminated three of the six Typhoon-class vessels that began operations in the 1980s. The submarines were designed to be loaded with 20 SS-N-20 ballistic missiles, which are no longer in service.
The Typhoon-class submarine Dmitry Donskoy is being used for trials of the new Bulava ballistic missile. The weapon will be carried by Moscow's fleet of Borei-class submarines.
Meanwhile, Ukraine on Tuesday began operations at a plant that will destroy 4,000 tons of solid rocket propellant and 99 one-time long-range missile casings, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The operations are intended to help close out the nation's obligations under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, under which Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan relinquished nuclear weapons left behind by the Soviet Union.
A number of decades-old mortar cartridges filled with mustard blister agent have been pulled from a dumping site at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah, and more are expected to be located, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on Wednesday.
Disposal of the depot's stockpile of chemical weapons was completed in January 2012. However, officials are still checking 27 unofficial refuse sites scattered around the 19,000-acre installation. One munitions dump at the south end of the depot coughed up the 11 chemical weapons.
"We anticipate we'll find a few more," said depot spokeswoman Alaine Grieser.
The weapons were placed in sealed canisters and will ultimately be destroyed using a mobile device.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is poised on Wednesday to highlight a continued increase in Iran's ability to rapidly enrich uranium but to note the nation has capped stocks of atomic material most easily converted into bomb fuel, Western nation envoys told Reuters.
Iran, which insists its atomic activities are nonmilitary in nature, has deployed significantly more high-speed IR-2M enrichment centrifuges and related components since the U.N. nuclear watchdog issued its previous safeguards assessment for the country in February, the insiders said.
There were 180 of the devices at the Natanz plant in February, insiders said.
"We expect that they've continued to install more advanced centrifuges at Natanz" since then, according to one envoy.
One Western government source said the Middle Eastern nation now appears to be "converting nearly all" of its new 20 percent-enriched uranium into medical reactor fuel. Tehran has avoided accumulating the 529 to 551 pounds of higher-enriched material needed for a weapon, keeping it short of a "red line" established by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last fall.
As of February, Tehran held 368 pounds of the higher-enriched material. Weapon-grade uranium has an enrichment level of about 90 percent.
The IAEA Board of Governors will consider the latest report at its next meeting, scheduled for June 3-7 in Vienna, Austria.
By Diane Barnes
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly approved legislation to ensure the United States complies with two broadly supported international nuclear security accords, but a key Senate opponent of a 2012 draft on Tuesday affirmed his opposition to language in the latest bill.
The 390-3 vote marked the chamber's second endorsement of measures required to fully ratify the treaties and two separate maritime security agreements. The two nuclear pacts, which address nuclear terrorism law and domestic nuclear material security, are themselves relatively noncontroversial; the Senate issued resolutions of advice and consent for them in 2008. House lawmakers, though, took nearly four years to break a stalemate over measures that could in part extend wiretapping authorities and application of the death penalty in nuclear terrorism cases.
Eliminating those elements last summer allowed the House for the first time to pass legislation to implement the treaties. However, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) opposed that bill largely due to removal of those measures, and an anonymous GOP hold prevented the House-backed proposal from advancing through the Senate.
Grassley's office on Tuesday said the senator "would prefer the bill go through the regular committee process" rather than bypassing panel consideration, which would require unanimous Senate approval.
"However, Senator Grassley would be willing to consider it on the Senate floor with a time agreement and a vote on the death penalty," Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine told Global Security Newswire by e-mail. She was not immediately available to provide clarification, but Senate Democrats last year prevented passage of a draft containing revisions sought by Grassley.
The chief sponsor of the latest House-approved bill emphasized its bipartisan drafting process.
"It is my hope that the Senate will act swiftly to pass this important legislation," said Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee.
As with four prior drafts, the newest bill would complete U.S. ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. The pact, which entered into force in 2007 and now has 86 states parties, requires member nations to criminalize possession and use of nuclear and radiological weapons by individuals. It establishes guidelines for cooperating in the extradition and prosecution of individuals linked to a nuclear plot or threat.
The bill would also bring the United States into line with a 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The amendment updates the original 1980s-era pact governing international shipments of civilian nuclear material to also include standards for securing nonmilitary atomic substances held, used or transferred within a single nation’s borders.
Sixty-seven governments had fully adopted the amendment as of last month. To take effect, the measure must receive backing from two-thirds of the full treaty's signatories. The original convention now has 148 members, placing the amendment's implementation threshold at 99 states, a coalition of more than 70 national security and arms control organizations said in a statement.
"Many other countries have indicated that they are waiting for the United States to complete ratification before moving ahead with their own ratification processes, since it was the United States that pushed for the amendment in the first place,” Kingston Reif, nuclear nonproliferation director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, said in comments released by the Fissile Materials Working Group.
Responding to one of Grassley's key objections to the House-approved language, Reif and another expert argued last week that existing law already allows for the execution of convicted nuclear terrorists.
"In the wake of the Boston attacks, it seems clear that an attack involving radiological or nuclear material would allow prosecutors plenty of latitude to seek the death penalty. In other words, the ideological battle between [Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)] and Grassley over their legislation would not matter," Reif and Miles Pomper, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote in a World Politics Review column published on Friday.
Mirroring its 2012 predecessor, the latest bill would result in "no significant cost to the federal government" should it become law, the Congressional Budget Office said in March.
"A few months ago, we saw underground nuclear tests, we saw long-range missile tests, we saw heated rhetoric," noted Pentagon spokesman George Little. "So I think we can safely say that we remain in a period of tensions that are relatively on a small scale by comparison."
North Korean launches of limited-range missiles are a fairly frequent occurrence that do not garner the same concern as the nation's December long-range rocket firing or its February underground atomic detonation. Pyongyang ramped up its threats over the spring after being hit with new U.N. Security Council sanctions for the nuclear test, but tensions have cooled in recent weeks.
The North's missing firings from Saturday to Monday are not necessarily a breach of the "provocation pause," Bloomberg quoted Little as saying.
A South Korean government insider told the Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday that Pyongyang had lifted a prohibition on sea vessels from an area along its east coast, suggesting the missile launches were finished for the moment.
Seoul has said the "projectiles" fired into the sea in recent days, either missiles or rockets, had ranges between 75 and 93 miles, which would put the South Korean capital within targeting distance.
Meanwhile, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet on June 7 and 8 in California for talks expected to address North Korea, the Associated Press reported.
The Obama administration has pressed China to take greater steps to persuade its neighbor and ally to halt provocations and return to multilateral negotiations on North Korean denuclearization.
The U.S. Air Force said its trial firing of a Minuteman 3 ICBM would be pushed back from Tuesday to Wednesday "due to a range safety instrumentation issue."
The launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was previously delayed from April to May to avoid exacerbating tensions with North Korea, which at the time had issued a series of threats against the United States and its allies, according to prior reports.
The Minuteman 3 launch is now scheduled from between 3:01 a.m. and 9:01 a.m. local time on Wednesday, according to an Air Force press release.
The Air Force manages 450 silo-based Minuteman 3 missiles deployed in three states. Launches are conducted to ensure the fleet remains in working order, according to the Associated Press.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev is due in Washington this week, but he might not be carrying a response from President Vladimir Putin to a recent letter from President Obama, Interfax reported.
U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon delivered the Obama letter during an April trip to Moscow.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported last week that Obama in the message proposed "developing a legally binding agreement on transparency, which would include exchange of information to confirm that our programs do not pose a threat to each other's deterrence forces."
Moscow has long complained that ongoing U.S. work to deploy ballistic missile interceptors and support technology around Europe poses a threat to Russia's strategic nuclear forces. Washington has hoped that some level of data exchange could prove that is not the case.
It had been thought that Patrushev might deliver a letter from Putin to Obama this week. However, "the work on the letter continues," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week. It was not clear if Putin's message would be prepared in time for the trip.
Nonetheless, Patrushev will meet with Donilon to "discuss topical international security issues and bilateral cooperation," according to one insider.
The Obama administration's decision to cancel the final segment of its European phased adaptive approach, a next-generation Standard Missile 3 interceptor planned with limited ICBM-defeating capabilities, will not be discussed next week at a two-day Moscow security conference, Interfax reported.
"The Americans issued a notice of their decision in the form of a letter to the president. The response must be made on the same level," according to Maj. Gen. Yevgeny Ilyin of the Russian Defense Ministry's international cooperation office.
The Indian Space Research Organization has received authorization to tap the country's geosynchronous GSAT orbiters for the purpose, one insider said, adding equipment now being readied would markedly boost the satellites' surveillance capabilities.
"We're using these satellites to warn us of an impending danger even as they continue with their primary tasks of transmission and meteorological observations," the newspaper quoted informed speakers as saying. Orbiters with the new gear "will capture the signature of any missile launch activities happening in a radius of 6,000 kilometers. This signature will be transmitted to a central control unit which would initiate [the] necessary counter-mechanism."
"Given their strategic position, we can even have exclusive facility to monitor a country or a particular region," the insiders said. "Given the GSATs' capability to map anything to a resolution of one meter, we will be able to capture the slightest of movements or even heat signatures."
The United Kingdom is seeing additional "limited but persuasive" indicators of chemical weapons use by the Bashar Assad's regime in the Syrian civil war, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a speech reported on Monday by the London Telegraph.
"We have physiological samples from inside Syria which have shown the use of sarin, although it does not indicate the scale of that use," Hague said. "Our assessment is that chemical weapons use in Syria is very likely to have been by the regime," and no data suggests opposition fighters have conducted chemical strikes, he added.
"If the regime does not negotiate seriously at the Geneva conference, no option is off the table," Hague said, referring to a peace conference being organized by Russia and the United States. "There remains a serious risk that the Assad regime will not negotiate seriously."
He said the United Kingdom had not committed to arming Syrian opposition forces but wants to revisit a European Union ban on supplying weapons to the war-torn country, Agence France-Presse reported.
European Union international relations insiders on Tuesday said Damascus had floated five potential delegates to the planned international meeting on negotiating an end to the conflict, Reuters reported. Prime Minister Wael al-Haiki is said to be on the list, which already faces some resistance from the opposition.
Syria's rebels must not place qualifications on their participation in the planned discussions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday in another Reuters report.
Meanwhile, the Syrian military on Tuesday said it had eliminated an Israeli automobile in the Golan Heights area "with those in it," the Associated Press reported. Israeli forces then launched a pair of rockets at Syrian soldiers, producing no injuries, the Syrian military indicated in comments quoted by the Xinhua News Agency. Israel on Tuesday said the vehicle was not lost, AP reported.
The president of Myanmar on Sunday reaffirmed his position that the nation would never seek nuclear weapons, Kyodo News reported.
There have been suspicions that the military junta that governed Myanmar for decades had begun some basic work toward a nuclear-weapon capability, possibly with assistance from North Korea. Those worries appear to have eased following Myanmar's 2011 move from the junta government to a formally democratic leadership.
"We don't really have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. We don't have money. We don't have technology. And nobody will come and help us [make] this thing," President Thein Sein said on Sunday in Washington, "but of course we have to establish some relations with North Korea because in the past everything is under sanctions and we were in need to find somebody who could help us with our defense. So we did engage diplomatically."
He added: "But I can say there is no military relationship since the new government came to power, only diplomatic relations."
Thein Sein met on Monday with President Obama.
Japan on Monday said it is mulling possible new discussions with India to hammer out a bilateral civilian nuclear power accord, Kyodo News reported.
Tokyo has "judged it sensible to negotiate an accord with India on nuclear cooperation," according to lead Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.
Insiders said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would address the potential for Japan to build atomic energy plants in India in a May 29 discussion in Tokyo with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh.
Dialogue on a nuclear cooperation agreement has been on hold since the March 2011 disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Sources in Japan said last year the sides needed to address "certain elements" prior to any deal. New Delhi possesses nuclear weapons outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Meanwhile, India and China on Monday together announced their intention to "carry out bilateral cooperation in civilian nuclear energy in line with their respective international commitments,” the New Indian Express reported.
The prepared remarks came after Singh met on Monday with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
By Chris Schneidmiller
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is taking new steps to heighten the security for diplomatic personnel around the world, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.
Kerry said the department would put into place “every single one of the recommendations” produced by the independent Accountability Review Board that studied the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi, Libya.
The board, led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Joint Chiefs of Staff head Adm. Michael Mullen, determined late last year that the State Department failed to correctly assess the growing security threat in Benghazi or to establish a security infrastructure equal to that danger.
“That report makes it clear that our work will never be done, and we can never eliminate every last risk, but we can never stop working to mitigate those risks as much as possible,” Kerry said in a speech to the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Va.
“We’re bringing on more security personnel, we’re enhancing our training. We’re putting more Marines at our high-threat diplomatic posts, and we’re making sure that their first responsibility is protecting our people, not just classified materials,” he added. “We’re working more closely with the Defense Department, with our partners, linking our embassies with various military commands to make emergency extradition more central to our military mission.”
Republicans in Congress have lambasted the administration on a number of fronts regarding Benghazi, including for failing to send military backup during the two assaults on the diplomatic site and for its muddled explanation afterward for what exactly had happened.
Leaders at the Pentagon and State Department have countered that no special operations troops could have reached Benghazi in time to save the four men and that there was no attempt to obscure what actually occurred.
A number of congressional hearings have already been held since late 2012, and more are almost certain. President Obama last week characterized the Republican scrutiny as a “sideshow.”
“This is a Congress that reminds us all the time that they’re a co-equal branch of the federal government, and they should because they are,” Kerry stated. “But that means Congress needs to play a role on the world stage as well, not just investigating, but leading.”
The administration’s top diplomat said the United States would not “pull back” from its missions in other nations.
“We’re going to keep practicing what my father called “foreign policy outdoors,” working directly with men and women around the world, from government officials and local leaders to civil society groups and ordinary people on the street. We’re going to build the people-to-people relationships that help foster trust and understanding between cultures. And we’re going to make that sort of engagement even stronger.”
By Diane Barnes
Global Security Newswire
WASHINGTON -- A well-placed Republican lawmaker on Monday doubled down on calls from within his party to build a new missile defense site on the U.S. East Coast, arguing that such a facility would augment the country's capacity to respond to potential long-range missile strikes from Iran or North Korea.
Republicans pushed into law a mandate for a Defense Department study of options for establishing a third Ground-based Midcourse Defense system interceptor site to complement existing installations in Alaska and California. At least two of the possible studied locations for the site must be on the East Coast.
The administration's plan to field additional interceptors at the Alaska site is on its own "insufficient for full protection of the United States," Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) wrote in a commentary on the "Real Clear Politics" website.
The Defense Department has questioned the need for third facility. A GOP offer to provide $250 million in additional fiscal 2014 funds for the study received a brush-off this month from Vice Adm. James Syring, who heads the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, and Assistant Defense Secretary Madelyn Creedon later said the United States is already "well protected" against long-range missile threats.
Turner, though, stressed that Syring and another top military official had indicated a third interceptor facility would expand the "battle space" for engaging missile threats. That additional space would provide more opportunity to shoot down an incoming Iranian or North Korean missile, the lawmaker quoted Syring and U.S. Northern Command head Gen. Charles Jacoby as saying.
"The world is not becoming a safer place," wrote Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "That increased battle space and a clearly defined missile defense strategy are the defense which will continue to keep the homeland safe."
The legislator separately criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting in April that the United States could roll back certain antimissile deployments in East Asia if Beijing convinced North Korea to end its nuclear arms activities. China has threatened to build up its nuclear forces in response to U.S. missile defense operations on its periphery.
He also denounced the administration's cancellation of plans to develop an advanced sea-based missile interceptor for deployment in Europe.
The House Armed Services Committee is set this week to vote on the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act as well as potential amendments to the bill. The Obama administration sought roughly $9.2 billion for ballistic missile defense in the coming budget cycle.
France on Friday said Iran's intransigence in a years-old nuclear standoff requires stringent U.S. and European economic penalties capable of settling the dispute, Agence France-Presse reported
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Western powers should "increase pressure on Iran in the coming months" as the nation bolsters uranium refinement capabilities capable of generating nuclear-bomb fuel. Tehran insists its atomic ambitions are strictly peaceful.
A growing obligation to "defeat [Iran's] strategy of procrastination and concealment" demands "the implementation of decisive sanctions," he said.
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Sunday said the French remarks show penalties to date "have been ineffective and fruitless," AFP reported.
Tehran on Saturday said it was awaiting proposals from six key powers on when to schedule a possible new meeting on the atomic standoff, ITAR-Tass reported. Multiple high-level meetings between Iran and the six nations -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- have failed to assuage worries among Western nations that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward development of a bomb capacity.
Meanwhile, Tehran was set on Monday to formally begin manufacturing its Herz 9 system against airborne military threats, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.
Iran indicated it had executed on Monday two men charged respectively with spying for the United States and Israel, the Associated Press reported.
An Iranian warship moved as close as 1 mile from Western military ships conducting practice maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, the London Telegraph reported on Saturday. The Iranian boat was not considered a danger, armed forces leaders said.
The U.S. Navy on Friday said it would deploy three additional coast patrol vessels to the Persian Gulf over the remainder of 2013 and then two more next year, raising the total in the area to 10, Defense News reported.