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U.S. plans push for nuclear material ban: official

BERLIN (Reuters) - The United States plans to revive diplomatic efforts next year to halt production of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium, a special adviser to President Barack Obama told a German newspaper.

In an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung published on Tuesday, Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control, said he believed North Korea was not interested in provoking a war with the South and only wished to take advantage of its tactical military advantage.

“Regarding the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), we are trying to reinstate negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and will launch an initiative next year,” he told the newspaper.

“Even if we succeed, however, it will take years until the negotiations are completed. The same goes for any further disarmament deals with Russia,” he continued, adding that the political realities by then could be completely different.

Samore expected the U.S. administration to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to the Senate next year for ratification, but he refrained from giving a forecast on the outcome of a vote.

“We will present our arguments next year, but we do not know if they will have the desired effect,” he said.

Assuming the U.S. signed the accord, he said he believed enough political pressure could be put on India and Pakistan to join other nuclear powers in ratifying the treaty.

“North Korea is the only unknown and so far there are no signs that the country will agree to it. But if we succeed in convincing all the others (...) it will be considerably easier to persuade North Korea in the course of negotiations,” he said.

“That, or the parties change the rules in such a way that the treaty can enter into effect without North Korea.”


Samore said further efforts to agree with Russia on limiting nuclear weapons were proving difficult, since Moscow was willing to reduce its tactical superiority only if NATO addressed its conventional superiority in exchange.

“I am confident that we can reach an agreement with the Russians to start negotiations next year over a current version of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE),” he said.

“I can well imagine that talks over tactical nuclear weapons occur parallel to these, since the two issues are closely connected.”

Referring to North Korea, Samore said the communist-ruled state posed a complex problem for the United States and its South Korean ally.

“No one is interested in starting a war on the Korean peninsula, not even North Korea. Pyongyang has, however, a military ace in its sleeve -- Seoul lies in the demilitarized zone and hence within range of artillery,” he said.

“North Korea could put our allies and us in a very difficult situation, since any outbreak of a military conflict would result in a large number of civilian casualties and immense economic damage.”

Consequently, the U.S. administration planned to work harder to persuade China to exert more pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programmes when Obama meets Chinese head of state Hu Jintao in Washington in early January.

Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner; editing by Andrew Dobbie