Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says thwarting the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea is critical to efforts to shore up the global non-proliferation regime. In an address in Washington, she said a new nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia and Senate ratification of the test-ban treaty would demonstrate U.S. leadership on the issue.
Clinton used the policy address, to the U.S. Institute of Peace, to reaffirm the administration's commitment to the goal declared by President Obama last April in Prague of a world free of nuclear weapons.
She also made clear that efforts to reinforce the global nuclear non-proliferation regime depend, at least in the near term, on successful resolution of concerns about the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
The secretary reiterated the United States' readiness to engage bilaterally with Pyongyang in efforts to revive the six-party talks chaired by China on the North Korean nuclear program.
But she said a North Korean return to the negotiations, stalled since last year is by no means the only step Pyongyang must take if it wants a more normal relationship with Washington.
"Current sanctions will not be relaxed until Pyongyang takes verifiable, irreversible steps toward complete denuclearization," said the secretary of state. "Its leaders should be under no illusion that the United States will ever have normal, sanctions-free relations with a nuclear-armed North Korea."
Clinton similarly stressed the administration's readiness to engage bilaterally and multilaterally with Iran - provided it is serious about taking "practical steps" to address the international community's concerns about its nuclear program.
But she said that process cannot be allowed to drag on inconclusively.
"The process of engagement cannot be open-ended. We are not prepared to talk just for the sake of talking," said Clinton. "As President Obama noted after the October first meeting in Geneva, we appear to have made a constructive beginning, but that needs to be followed up by constructive actions."
Clinton said prompt action is needed, in particular, on implementing a plan to use Iranian low-enriched uranium - to be further processed abroad - to refuel a research reactor in Tehran producing isotopes for medical purposes.
Talks on that subject, held this week in Vienna, are viewed as a possible model for an accord under which Iran could continue a civilian nuclear program while resolving concerns that its current enrichment effort is weapons-related.
Clinton gave an optimistic assessment of talks with Moscow aimed at a new big-power Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the time the current START accord expires in early December.
She said the administration believes a new treaty will bolster U.S. national security and set an example for the rest of the world.
"We are under no illusions that this START agreement will persuade Iran and North Korea to end their illicit nuclear activities," said Clinton. "But it will demonstrate that the United States is living up to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation to work toward nuclear disarmament."
The Secretary of State also appealed for U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which failed to win approval when it was before that body a decade ago.
"CTBT ratification would also encourage the international community to move forward with other essential non-proliferation steps," she said. "And make no mistake, other states rightly or wrongly, view American ratification of the CTBT as a sign of our commitment to the non-proliferation consensus."
Clinton called for bolstering the authority and resources of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. She said if the IAEA is to be a "bulwark" of the non-proliferation regime, it must have the resources necessary to do the job.