May 19, 2024


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Special Online Briefing with Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security

Bonnie Jenkins

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today, we are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Bonnie Denise Jenkins, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.

Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, let’s get started. Ambassador Jenkins, thank you so much for joining us today for this very timely briefing. I’ll turn it over to you now for opening remarks.

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Thank you, John, and thank you, everyone who’s participating, and John for the introduction. And congratulations, John, on your new role as Director of the Brussels Media Hub. The hub is an integral part of the U.S. Department of State to connect U.S. policymakers and experts with European media. I am very pleased to be here again speaking with all of you.

Now, we are here to talk about the developing situation at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion and another example of its irresponsible behavior as a nuclear-weapon state.

The Russian Federation and President Putin have rattled the international community with the threat of a nuclear incident on two occasions already since further invading Ukraine earlier this year: by seizing Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant during the first days of the invasion and then using provocative nuclear rhetoric in the context of Russian aggression.

Chernobyl has returned to full Ukrainian control after five weeks of the seizure, but not without damage to the facilities. And of course, Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling was especially troubling, given that in early January of this year, Russia reaffirmed in a joint statement with the four other nuclear-weapon states the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Their actions at the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant have created a serious risk of a nuclear incident – a dangerous radiation release – that could threaten not only the people and environment of Ukraine, but also affect neighboring countries and the entire international community.

The risk of radiation release could all – could be all but eliminated if Russia returns control of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant back to Ukraine and fully withdraws from Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Russia should immediately cease military operations around the plant and allow the Ukrainian staff working there to fulfill their responsibilities free from the duress of Russian armed forces. Russia should also commit to ensure safe access to experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, to assess the safety and security of all aspects of the plant, and uphold the IAEA’s Seven Pillars of Nuclear Safety and Security.

So let us be clear: Russia’s continuing reckless behavior is not surprising. It is part of their playbook to coerce the international community to accept their end game, which is to dismantle Ukraine as a geopolitical entity and dissolve it from the world map. Ukraine is a sovereign and independent nation, and we cannot accept such a fate for Ukraine, or for any other sovereign nation.

The United States continues to stand united with Ukraine.

We have provided more than $13.5 billion in military assistance since the beginning of the Biden-Harris administration in January of 2021, and more than $12.8 billion of that is since Russia launched its premeditated, unprovoked, and brutal war against Ukraine on February 24th.

Yesterday, President Biden announced the fourth tranche of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI, which is worth up to $3 billion. It is the largest single package of security assistance committed to Ukraine to date, and it allows Ukraine to acquire air defense systems, artillery systems and munitions, C-UAS, and radars.

The United States will continue to provide the security assistance required to support Ukraine to defend its sovereignty and its territory.

And on a related note, I am currently calling from New York, where over 190 States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – the NPT – are engaged in high-level and intense discussions on how the international community can continue to work together to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, achieve nuclear disarmament, and promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Russia’s ongoing actions are directly undercutting these interests.

The NPT has served as the cornerstone of the nuclear nonproliferation regime for over 50 years and tomorrow will mark the final day of its Tenth Review Conference. As we conclude negotiations, we will have a real opportunity to not only strengthen this vital multilateral agreement but also to once again prove that the international rules-based order, which has kept us prosperous – prosperous for over 70 years, will continue to bring peace and harmony for as long as we all work responsibly together.

Thank you, and over to you, John.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, Ambassador, for those opening remarks. We have a number of questions coming in, and a few of them follow kind of the same line. From Louise Francis (sic) from Belgium: “Do you know, Ambassador, when the IAEA visit to the plant could take place? What are the dates? And do you know under which conditions the visit would take place?”

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Thank you, Louise from Belgium. Just want to say that this is a very fluid situation, as you know. So we continue to strongly support the IAEA’s visit and work with partners to make that happen. It’s very important, as I said, that the IAEA is allowed to visit the Zaporizhzhya Power Plant. Now, the IAEA DG, Director Grossi, has repeatedly said that he’s willing to lead a team there as soon as possible. When that would be and the details around that, I will defer to them, of course. But as I said, we definitely want to emphasize the importance of the IAEA visit to the nuclear power plant.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. The next question coming from Bulgaria, Momchil Indjov. “Your Excellency, do you have information about the potential threat from the plant to the Balkan region? If so, could you specify, please, what that threat would be?”

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Yes, thanks for that question as well. If there’s a nuclear incident, a radiation release, it will be felt not just in Ukraine but also the neighboring states and the entire international community. And so that’s a very important point that I want to make – the involvement and the impact to many countries, not just those in the region. And it’ll also have a humanitarian and economic impact, as you can imagine. So that is why Russia must return control of the plant to Ukraine and cease all military activity there. Nowhere in history of this world has a nuclear power plant become a part of a combat zone, so this really has to stop immediately.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Next question from Setsuko Inaki from Nippon TV in Japan. “What would be the hardest challenge to realize the IAEA mission and should it be, IAEA be on site for a longer period to ensure the safety and security of the site?”

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, actually the hardest challenge at this moment is for the IAEA to actually get access to the site in a manner that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty. And of course we need Russia to cease all military operations at the site. So on the fundamental details, of course, I will refer to the IAEA.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to a couple of questions from Ukrainian journalists. Dmytro Anopchenko from Inter TV: “How realistic, in your point of view, is the idea to create a demilitarized zone around the station, and how could Russia be forced to agree to this plan?”

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, obviously, fighting near a nuclear plant is dangerous and irresponsible, and I think that’s really important that we need to highlight that point over and over again. So as we saw, we continue to urge an end to all military operations at or near Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and to return full control to Ukraine. And of course, creating a demilitarized zone around these nuclear power plants is something that we are continuing to stress.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. If you don’t mind, I – there’s a couple of journalists who have their hands raised. I’d like to go to one of those questions.


MODERATOR: Can we go to John Hudson, please, from Washington Post.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. Ambassador, the state-run nuclear power company in Ukraine issued a release today saying that after shelling and some fires, that the plant has been completely cut off from Ukraine’s electricity grid for the first time. Can you verify this? Can you tell us at all about the risk that that might pose in general to the plant but also in terms of the wider risk in terms of a radioactive event?

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, unfortunately I’m not – I don’t have any information right now that can confirm those reports, whether they are actually true or not. So I don’t have any information that I can provide at this point. However, we are very concerned about turning off any of the power plants; we are very concerned about any of the activities that are taking place, particular since we do not have adequate access to see what is actually taking place and what can be the immediate impact of what’s going on there. So we don’t have anything that we can confirm to you right now.

I mean, I’ve heard some of those reports as well. We’re trying to confirm whether there is some validity to that. But I think the important thing to highlight is anything like that, whether you’re shutting off things or turning things off, will have immediate impact obviously to Ukrainian citizens, entities in the vicinity, and also concerned about any type of potential nuclear incident, a radioactive incident that can occur, and again want to highlight the importance of Russia withdrawing from the site and giving control back to Ukraine and having access of the IAEA so they can actually see what’s taking place within the plant.

MODERATOR: Thank you for your answer, ma’am. We’ll go back to some of the questions in the Q&A box, from Italy this time. Micol Flammini from Il Foglio: “Is Russia using the nuclear threat as a tool to achieve something like it was with the wheat deal, when the threat was the food crisis?”

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Thanks for that question from Italy. And like I said in my opening remarks, Russia is engaging in irresponsible behavior as a nuclear-weapon state. And unfortunately, this is not the first time that they have used veiled threats to get their way. So it is something that we’re concerned about there. So thanks for the question.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Back to Ukraine, from Oleksandr Khymych from RBC-Ukraine News Agency: “Shouldn’t the United States immediately announce a specific list of sanctions and other reactions that will be taken immediately in the event of any disaster at the nuclear power plant?”

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, actually the goal is to not have a disaster at the plant and to avoid an incident by calling on Russia to end all of its military actions and return full control to Ukraine.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’re going to go back to quite a – journalists who are raising their hands, if you don’t mind.

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Yes, that’s fine.

MODERATOR: Jennifer Hansler, I believe, from CNN. She may have taken her hand down. Jennifer, go ahead if you’re able.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yeah, we got you.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Thanks so much, Ambassador. I just wanted to follow up. I know the goal is to not have a nuclear catastrophe, but are there active plans right now on how to mitigate any worst-case scenario at Zaporizhzhya if it does come to that? And also, are there any discussions about how to hold Russia accountable should they refuse to cede control back to the Ukrainians here and cause such a disaster? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, as you can imagine, we are continuing to have discussions. We’ve had a number of opportunities here at the UN Security Council. I was here about two weeks ago at the Security Council. We had a discussion on this issue. We all – quite a few countries, I can say, highlighted the importance of Russia withdrawing from the nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. We had – we had an opportunity to highlight the importance of a demilitarized zone, the safety of the staff and the importance of the IAEA access.

So we have been using every possibility we can to continue to impress upon Russia the importance of doing all of those things that I have highlighted and to be accountable as a nuclear-weapon state and be responsible as a nuclear-weapon state.

On your first question, I cannot say in terms of whether – what specific actions are taking place on that – in that respect. But obviously there’s a recognition of a possible issue there. We are all worried about a potential nuclear incident. We are all worried about a potential radiation that can be leaked based on the irresponsible actions of Russia. So I would just say that we’re all aware of that, and we’re taking that into consideration.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. The next question, again, to a journalist who is raising their hand from Dmitry Kirsanov, who is from the TASS News Agency.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you for doing this. Can you hear me okay?

MODERATOR: Yes, we hear you.


MODERATOR: Good morning, Madam Secretary. I have two separate questions. First, who is shelling the station? And secondly, while we have you here, could you update us on the talks or consultations or discussions, if you prefer, between the Russians and the Americans on the New START, on the issues pertaining to the inspections resumption? Thank you so much.

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: I’m not able, at this point, to make any confirmation about the shelling and where it’s coming from. But what I would say is that, once again, the important thing to keep in mind and want to continue to reiterate here with all of you is the importance of Russia’s withdrawal. Because these are all important questions, important issues, but we have to remember that we would not be in this situation if Russia would simply withdraw and give the site back to Ukraine.

On the New START, I think we all are aware that the discussions between the U.S. and Russia on START, the follow-on to the New START, have been – are not taking place right now as a result of the situation we’re dealing with. And those talks will continue in the future when the situation is right for that to happen.

On the inspection issues, I can just say that I know that there still is a – we’re still trying to figure out how we can make that happen. We know that there has been some pushback from the – from Russia, but we are still in the process of trying to figure out how we can make that – how we can make that go forward.

MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Next question will be from – going to, again, a journalist who is raising their hand, Michael Backfisch from the Funke Media Group in Germany. Michael, please.

QUESTION: Yes, hello. Can you hear me?


QUESTION: Hello. Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador. It is said that the Russians want to cut off Ukraine from the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant and to divert the whole electricity to the Crimea Peninsula. Do you see it that way, and what would be the American countermeasures in order to prevent this? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Yes. I totally agree that anything like that on Russian behavior is unfortunate, which is certainly one way to describe it. We certainly don’t want that to happen. We know that will have a ramification, of course, for our Ukrainian counterparts as well. So we don’t want that to happen and – but we’re continuing to talk with Russia and through these Security Council discussions and to impress upon Russia not to do that.

I can’t recall. What’s the second part of the question?

QUESTION: Yes. That would be, what would be the American countermeasures in order to prevent this?

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, I wouldn’t put so much countermeasures as much as, obviously, we’re trying to do the diplomatic efforts. But what I will say is I think that this has raised, in many respects, the importance of understanding the need to not rely on countries who have questionable processes and efforts in terms of relying on energy sources. And one of the things that we are looking at is diversifying energy sources and working with countries who are so dependent on Russia.

And this is not just in the Ukraine context but in the larger context. So I think that raises that point and something that the U.S. is very keen to work with countries on in terms of reliance on countries that have questionable practices. So thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. We only have about five minutes left, so I’ll go one more question. Let’s take one from Kiyomiya Ryo from The Asahi Shimbun, Japan. Ryo, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you. This is Ryo. So my question is about NPT Review Conference and final document. Among parties, there have been big disagreement, especially with Russia about the matter Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. So how does the U.S. assess the discussion at the Review Conference so far, and how do you see the need to make a compromise and make a consensus?

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Thank you. As I said, we have one more day here of the – for the conference, and I know that the U.S. delegation has been working extremely hard to find ways to have a successful Review Conference, have a consensus document. We continue to work toward a consensus outcome that reflects the enduring commitment of all the NPT parties to nuclear nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

So I can’t really get into the details, particularly so close to the conclusion, but I will say that we – that folks are still working around the clock as we speak. We are continuing to be hopeful that we will have a consensus document at the end of the day tomorrow. And so we will all see very soon where we will be at that time. But we are continuing to work closely with all of the NPT parties to try to reach a successful conclusion. So thanks for asking.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much, Ambassador. And unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today. Thank you for your questions, and thank you, Ambassador Jenkins, for joining us. Before we close and before I cover a couple of more administrative matters, Ambassador, I’d like to see if you have any final remarks for the group.

AMBASSADOR JENKINS: Well, just thank you, John, for inviting me again to speak to all of the – all of the journalists. I want to thank all of you again for your participation and actually for your continued interest in these really important issues.

We hope that we will have a successful conclusion, of course, tomorrow to the NPT, but also we once again call on Russia to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. We feel, obviously, that’s the best answer to all of these potential problems. But we will also, obviously, keep following up on everything that’s going on and encouraging all countries, particularly Russia and Ukraine, to find a way to allow the IAEA to do – to go to the plant in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty.

So once again, thank you, all of you, for listening and for your continued interest in these important issues. Thank you, John.

MODERATOR: Thanks so much, Ambassador. Appreciate that. For everyone else, we will shortly be sending the audio recording of this briefing to all the participating journalists, and we’ll also provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d love to hear any feedback you have. You can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub, one word, Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another briefing in the near future. This ends today’s press briefing.

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