The United States and Russia are working together on nonproliferation efforts despite the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, a senior State Department official said on Friday.
“We shouldn’t shoot ourselves in the foot” by halting such work, said Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.
Gottemoeller said the two countries have “fenced off” activities designed to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction, including the removal of highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from other countries.
Washington and Moscow are also still cooperating on implementing the New START agreement, negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and eliminating Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, Gottemoeller added.
She said some bilateral engagement, including the NATO-Russia council, had been “suspended” due to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and its military posture along Ukraine’s borders.
But while Russia had “blown past” many of its obligations under international law “nuclear deterrence is not at play in this current crisis,” she said.
However, Gottemoeller noted, “it’d be a much worse crisis” today if Ukraine still had its Soviet-era nuclear weapons stockpile. She declined to elaborate further.
In terms of the New START agreement, she noted that “even during very negative periods of the Cold War” both countries “continued to press ahead without nuclear arms reduction commitments, and we are certainly doing so now.”
Gottemoeller said it is “manifestly in the national security interest of the United States” to work with Russia and others on threat-reduction efforts in order to minimize the chances that terrorists will obtain nuclear weapons.