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Prime Minister Gordon Brown comments on nuclear weapons, 10 July 2009

G8 press briefing - day two, A transcript of a press conference given by the Prime Minister on the second day of the G8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, on 9 July 2009, 10 Downing Street website, Excerpts.

Prime Minister:

We've had a number of meetings, as you probably know, covering a number of issues, and I just want to highlight them then I'll emphasise what I think you might want to ask me questions on.

We're discussing all the time the global challenges that we face: it is immediate, urgent and essential that we act together. Last night, I just want to remind you, that on Iran, the top of the foreign policy statement that has been issued is on Iran. Now embassies in Iran must be permitted to exercise their functions effectively without arbitrary restrictions or intimidation of their staff and that unjustified detentions of journalists or foreign nationals are unacceptable. And we obviously pushed for a very strong statement on Iran. That is a strong statement from the whole of the G8.

I'm grateful for the solidarity of other leaders because of what has happened to British Embassy staff and British diplomats. I want to make it also clear that we stand side by side with President Sarkozy because the detention of a French academic by the Iranian regime is wholly unacceptable and we will do all we can to work with him to secure her release.

We discussed last night, also, and this morning again nuclear security and in particular the dangers of nuclear proliferation. We also highlighted the issues of North Korea and Iran but are concerned about the potential spread of nuclear weapons widely. We agreed to a proposal that has come from President Obama that we will hold a nuclear conference, a summit of world leaders next year, at the spring of next year. It will be held in Washington. It's ahead of the planned review of the Non-proliferation Treaty.

And you can see from the announcement of this summit that we take seriously the spread of nuclear weapons and the need to follow up proposals that I've put, President Obama and others have put, that there is the possibility of a nuclear deal, so to speak, that we will help countries that are non-nuclear countries gain access to civil nuclear power and do so in a way that is safe for the whole of the world. But we want them to agree to tighter conditions about non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and we will try at the same time to work with Russia and America to achieve some reduction in nuclear weapons...


Can you give us any more details on the nuclear summit? Which countries will be there?

Prime Minister:

I reckon that, you know, 20 to 30 countries will be present at it, but it's not for me to decide the invitation list. It's going to be at the invitation of President Obama. I think it's a recognition that he made some progress in Moscow, when he talked to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.

Look, nuclear proliferation is a huge issue now, because, more than 40 years ago, when the Nuclear Non proliferation Treaty was signed, there were five nuclear-weapon states. Now there are nine. The possibility is that Iran, North Korea and others seek to acquire nuclear weapons, that we'll have had a big rise in nuclear weapons states in this decade. That is a problem for the whole of the world that has got to be addressed.

Now the original deal in the Non proliferation Treaty was the country that had nuclear weapons would seek to reduce them. The countries that didn't have nuclear weapons would not seek to have them - and what we recognise is, in this world where there's energy shortages and energy requirements of different countries, we have got to help countries that abandon the idea of nuclear weapons, or will never take up the idea of nuclear weapons - we have got to help these countries allow civil nuclear power for their energy needs. If we do so, we want it to be under conditions that are the safest possible.

I made a speech on this a few weeks ago suggesting the basis of a new deal on nuclear security, and remember also, we have got to make sure that nuclear weapons never fall into the hands of terrorists, groups like Al Qaeda, and other groups, who would seek to use them simply to annihilate people in different parts of the world. Now this is a real challenge for the world: the technology is, of course, very sophisticated. The political requirement is that we get an agreement, so we don't see a proliferation of weapons over the next few years - and I am pleased that President Obama has taken this up.

We are going to be putting forward our specific recommendations in the next few days for a nuclear non proliferation deal in 2010, and you will see Britain putting forward proposals that I think will form part of the discussion at this Washington summit.

So you've had the G20 to discuss the world economy, you've obviously got this meeting discussing climate change - I think one of the big issues in the world is the threat from terrorism and the need for nuclear security, and this is what is going to inform the subject of a special summit in Washington.


Will that be called the G40 or the G30?

Prime Minister:

It'll depend how many...


Still on Iran. When will you start discussing the new sanction, and how long will you wait for an answer? Sarkozy said until September - but what will happen in September?

Prime Minister:

Our statement, issued, which you'll have seen or is available for you today, says that we will be discussing this again at the time of the United Nations meeting in September. And so we hope there'll be a positive response from Iran, but it is on the agenda - specifically put on the agenda by all of us - for a further discussion in September. So we hope that by that time there'll be a positive response.


Very quickly on the nuclear issue: we've had what the emergence of the talks between America and Russia, we've got your own strategic defence review. Is it now feasible to talk in terms of Trident being part of what Britain will talk about next year?

Prime Minister:

I think the issue for all countries is really not that. The issue is can you achieve a sensible reduction in nuclear weapons at this stage, while the existing nuclear weapons states remain nuclear weapons states. Nobody is calling on us as part of the Non proliferation Treaty re negotiations to renounce our weapons. The whole point of the Non proliferation Treaty is that those people who have weapons will be willing to reduce them as far as is possible, and, at the same time, those people who don't have nuclear weapons will be given the benefits of civil nuclear power, while at the same time renouncing nuclear weapons.

And I think we'll probably want to have a tougher regime: that the onus will be on the countries that don't have nuclear weapons to prove that they don't have nuclear weapons. At the moment, one of the problems we've had with Iran is the question of whether you can prove or not that someone is developing a nuclear weapon. But if there's an international agreement that requires everybody to be open with the rest of the world, then Iran would have to prove to us that it didn't have nuclear weapons, rather than us to prove that they were developing nuclear weapons. Now that is a change that I can see.

I think if you sign a Nuclear Non proliferation Treaty, then you ought to be in a position to say that you are upholding that treaty, and to be able to prove it. So Iran signed the Nuclear Non proliferation Treaty - it's a partner to that treaty - and if people say ‘there is a question mark here, are you developing nuclear weapons or not?' you should be able to prove that you are not developing nuclear weapons. So it's not guilty until proven innocent; it's you have accepted an obligation not to have nuclear weapons, but you've got to prove and demonstrate that that is the case, if there is a question mark over what you're doing. And I think most people would see that as very fair.


Are you still convinced that we need our independent nuclear deterrent?

Prime Minister:

We set our policy out, and it's been very clear over the last period of time, and we've had this debate in the House of Commons. It's one that's been resolved in favour of a weapon. I think, if you look at where we are at the moment - Iran is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon, Korea is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon - we've got to show that we can deal with this by collective action, and I think unilateral action by the United Kingdom would not be seen as the best way forward.

What you need is collective action by the nuclear weapons powers to say that we are prepared to reduce our nuclear weapons - but we need assurances also that other countries will not proliferate them. And we need these new kinds of assurances to prevent a situation as we've got in Iran emerging in exactly the same way again. Thanks very much.

Source: Number 10 Downing Street website, www.number10.gov.uk.

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