Richard Johnson is NTI’s Senior Director for the Fuel Cycle and Verification program. He works on issues pertaining to nuclear verification, including International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards as well as a specific focus on Iran and North Korea. Before NTI, Johnson served as the deputy lead coordinator (acting) for Iran Nuclear Implementation at the U.S. Department of State, and he earlier served as Director for Nonproliferation at the National Security Council. He graduated as valedictorian from Claremont McKenna College and later earned his masters degree at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Richard sat down with NTI's Caitlyn Collett for the latest in Atomic Pulse's "Get to Know NTI" series.
You just got to NTI a few months ago from the State Department. Could you tell me a little bit about what you were doing there?
Well, I was a State Department employee for almost 12 years. I joined the U.S. government as a Presidential Management Fellow, which is a program that brings recent graduate students into the federal government. Over my 12 years, I did a number of jobs and rotated to different offices and agencies within the government, though my home agency was always the State Department. My last job was basically to oversee and manage the office that was implementing the Iran nuclear deal.
My most recent assignment prior to that was working at the White House at the National Security Council where I was the Director for Nonproliferation. I covered a range of issues there including the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) itself, North Korea, and civil nuclear issues, among others.
In fact, one of the great things about coming to NTI is I am being reunited with a number of my former colleagues from the NSC, including Ambassador Laura Holgate, Lynn Rusten, Beth Cameron, all of whom I worked for and with. It’s sort of a reunion. And, of course, I got to know Secretary Moniz working on the Iran nuclear deal. I worked with him and supported him when he worked on that issue. It’s nice to come and work with him again.
You just returned from a trip to Asia with Secretary Moniz, right? How was it while you were there?
It was very productive. I love going to Asia. That part of the world is where I first started getting very excited about international relations and international security issues. One of my majors in college was Asian studies and I studied abroad in China and learned to speak Chinese. I kind of always thought I was going to be a China hand in our world, and I still do have a lot of interest in China and follow the issues very closely.
So going back to Asia any time is always exciting for me. We didn't go to China on that trip because it was their national holiday, but we went to Singapore, South Korea, and several cities in Japan.
What were some of the highlights of your trip?
I think the biggest highlight for me was going to Hiroshima for the first time. For somebody who works in the nuclear nonproliferation field and cares passionately about preventing the use of nuclear weapons, it was very moving to go and see that place and to be reminded of the terrible impact that nuclear weapons can have when they are used.