Pugwash Delegation in Vienna for arms control meetings

On 21-23 June 2020, Pugwash Secretary-General Paolo Cotta Ramusino and Pugwash Council Member Sergey Batsanov visited Vienna and had meetings with heads of the IAEA and CTBTO Prepcom, as well as with the multilateral ambassadors of Iran and the Russian Federation. It was the first Pugwash foreign mission following the easing of COVID-related travel restrictions in Europe.

The meeting with the IAEA Director General, Rafael Grossi, on 22 June addressed Agency-related aspects of the forthcoming NPT Review Conference (currently scheduled for January 2021), and on what can still be done to improve the chances for a more successful conference. But the main focus was on the worsening situation around the JCPOA and on the recently concluded session of the IAEA Board of Governors, where this situation was the subject of heated discussion. The Pugwash delegation received very useful updates from the Director General. On its part, the Pugwash delegation expressed deep concern with the current confrontation-based political dynamics, which have the potential of harming the NPT Review Conference, possibly the NPT itself and the IAEA. Furthermore, the need for imaginative solutions to help preserve room for political dialogue was stressed, which is necessary to defuse the current situation and promote cooperation between Iran and the IAEA.

Prof. Paolo Cotta Ramusino with Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA Director General (photo credits: Dean Calma/IAEA)

The Iranian nuclear file and the recent adoption (on 19 June) of the Board of Governors resolution on this subject were extensively discussed in the meeting with the Permanent Representative of Iran to the International Organisations in Vienna, Ambassador Kazem Gharib Abadi. The Pugwash delegation was assured that Iran is open to cooperation with the IAEA; however, he felt that it is the actions of some Western powers that inevitably make this cooperation more difficult. Moreover, despite the current campaign waged against Iran, there are no plans on the side of Iran to reconsider its non-nuclear status.

The meeting with the Executive Secretary of the CTBTO Preparatory Commission, Lassina Zerbo (on 23 June 2020) focused on ways and means of preventing the unravelling of the moratorium on nuclear testing and ensuring long-term survival of the CTBT – a key achievement of multilateral nuclear arms control and nonproliferation efforts almost 25 years ago. Possible formats of cooperation between Pugwash and CTBTO Prepcom were discussed in this context.

The next meeting was with Russian Permanent Representative to the International Organisations in Vienna, Ambassador M.  Ulyanov. It also addressed the questions of the Iranian nuclear file, the JCPOA, and the CTBTO, but also included extensive discussion of the general situation in the field of arms control and disarmament. In particular, Ambassador Ulyanov gave a briefing on the results of the bilateral Russia-US high-level consultations in Vienna held just the day previously with the participation of Deputy Foreign Minister S. Ryabkov and US Undersecretary of State M. Billingslea. The Pugwash delegation understood that, in spite of the undiplomatic show of some Chinese flags at the negotiating table staged by the US delegation before the meeting, the bilateral US-Russian discussions proceeded in a businesslike atmosphere and allowed both parties to reach certain procedural understandings. However, they did not show any evolution of the bilateral relation on substance.

In addition to the above official meetings, the Pugwash delegation had a good  discussion on arms control issues with Dr. E. Sokova, Director of the Vienna Centre for Disarmament and Nonproliferation and Dr. N. Sokov, senior fellow of that Centre.