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U.S. Gets "B-" for Anti-Nuclear Efforts

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Washington think tank on Thursday gave the Obama administration a "B-" grade for its atomic arms and nonproliferation policies since 2010, citing its refusal to rule out a nuclear strike against Iran or any other non-nuclear weapon state in questionable standing with U.N. inspectors.

An Arms Control Association press release directly ties a downgrade from a "B" score issued in October 2010 to a U.S. policy statement leaving open the option of conducting a nuclear attack against any country out of line with its safeguards commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The U.N. organization's duties include ensuring non-nuclear weapons states do not divert material from peaceful atomic programs into military operations.

The Obama administration's stance from 2010 and "its increasingly bellicose rhetoric towards Iran [leave] open the possibility that Washington may use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state that is in violation of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, like Iran," the press release states. "This brought down the overall grade of the United States to a 'B-.'"

The report provides the United States and every other scored government with an overall grade for progress on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament as well as ratings on progress in specific areas, such as verifiably cutting nuclear forces, submitting to international inspections and forswearing nuclear strikes against states with no atomic arms of their own. The assessment examines every nuclear-weapon possessor state as well as a number of additional governments and organizations.

Iran received a "D+" for its overall nuclear record in the think tank's newly issued report card. The United States and its allies worry Iran is pursuing a nuclear arms capacity under the guise of a peaceful atomic program, and they fear Tehran could carry out key steps toward a weapon beyond U.N. oversight.

The Arms Control Association noted the country had yet to clear the way for an agency probe of alleged past nuclear arms-related experiments within its borders, and also had not made voluntary arrangements to permit tighter scrutiny by atomic inspectors. In addition, the U.N. organization has said Iran is the only nation with "significant nuclear activities" not to observe rules requiring earlier notice to inspectors for construction of atomic sites.

The independent assessment offers limited praise for U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear force reductions under a bilateral strategic arms control treaty that took effect in February 2011. “Russia, in particular, has taken a leadership role in nuclear disarmament by reducing its deployed strategic forces below New START deployed warhead ceiling (1,550) years before the treaty’s 2018 deadline,” report co-author Marcus Taylor said in released remarks.

Those cuts contributed to Moscow's overall "B" grade. The think tank's press release separately cites Russia's ratification of an accord barring nuclear weapons on the African continent.

The report card offers a critical overall appraisal of recent nonproliferation and disarmament efforts in the United States and elsewhere.

"The bottom line [is] the pace of progress on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament over the past two and a half years is not equal to today's urgent nuclear threats," ACA Executive Director Daryl Kimball stated by e-mail. "Since the significant progress achieved during President Barack Obama's first two years in office, the administration's nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation effort has lost energy and focus."

Kimball did not identify specific examples, but experts have described a lack of progress toward several goals articulated by President Obama in a 2009 policy address in Prague, including U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and movement toward an international prohibition on manufacturing new fuel for nuclear arms.

The White House, though, said pursuing "a world without nuclear weapons remains a central focus of the president’s nuclear agenda."

"We have reduced the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.  We are well into implementation of the New START Treaty with Russia, which will reduce strategic forces to their lowest levels in over 50 years, and the United States is committed to pursue further reductions," National Security Council spokeswoman Laura Lucas told Global Security Newswire in an e-mailed statement. The official also pointed to "a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years," as well as "significant progress [achieved] through the Nuclear Security Summit process."

"The administration remains dedicated to advancing this agenda in the second term, with a focus on the additional concrete steps we can take, as well as the need to keep working on the most pressing challenges to the nuclear nonproliferation regime,” Lucas said.

The ACA report card scores the atomic policies for a number of additional countries:

-- China was given a "B-." Beijing is thought to have paused expansion of its atomic arsenal and has taken steps to boost defenses of sensitive assets, but it is more secretive about its arms operations than any other recognized nuclear power, the ACA release asserts.

-- France received a "B," in part for ratifying a 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

-- The report gives the United Kingdom a "B+" in part for carrying out significant cuts to its nuclear stockpile since 2011. The nation plans by early 2015 to reduce its nuclear arsenal to 120 missile-mounted warheads and 60 additional bombs in storage.

-- India received a "C+," in part for adding to its stocks of nuclear weapons and bomb-usable fissile material in the period covered by the report.

-- Israel, which has refused to confirm its widely presumed possession of a nuclear arsenal, received a “C-.”

-- North Korea received an “F” in the assessment. "Pyongyang continues to flout the established international nonproliferation and disarmament norms, making it a serious proliferation concern,” ACA nonproliferation analyst Kelsey Davenport said.

-- Pakistan, which received a “C-,” has moved to tighten trade regulations and crack down on illegal nuclear smuggling, according to the report. However, the nation has continued to manufacture nuclear arms and bomb material while blocking international efforts to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty, the document says.

-- Syria was assigned a “D+” for blocking IAEA access to the site of a suspected nuclear reactor facility bombed in 2007.

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