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Bill Perry On Eliminating Nuclear Weapons In An Obama Administration

Former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, a Democratic national-security eminence certain to have the new administration’s ear, kicks off a panel on counter-nuclear proliferation that includes possible incoming State Dept. official Wendy Sherman.

Perry’s part of an effort, once considered taboo, where former State and Pentagon chiefs “pal around with nuclear abolitionists,” as he joshes. Without U.S. efforts to actively reduce its own nuclear arsenal, getting other countries to do so is a non-starter, he’s argued as a part of that effort, which is led by Henry Kissinger. “I really am a card-carrying Cold Warrior,” Perry says, and the “risks of a nuclear catastrophe was never academic to me.” But without the Cold War, “I believe we should begin to dismantle the deadly nuclear legacy of the Cold War.”

Proliferation — from Russia, North Korea, Iran and the freelance efforts of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan — is at “a tipping point” that will be “irreversible, and dangerous beyond the imagination of most people,” Perry says. The world has been “moving backwards” on nuclear proliferation, “and each year we have moved ever closer to a nuclear catastrophe.” That’s why it’s time to take what used to be considered drastic action to “move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.” Not reduce, eliminate. “That will not happen until the American government takes a strong leadership position,” Perry says, and claims that Obama sees it that way based on campaign statement. Wants Obama to hector the world on nuclear abolition, and “deep cooperation” with Russia on “mitigating the danger of nuclear terrorism.” Says it’s time to work with the Senate on ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty “12 years after we signed it.” Bob Joseph and Eric Edelman, Bush administration officials on the panel, look uncomfortable and whisper something to each other.

Perry is worried about Iran, which is “moving inexorably toward becoming a nuclear power,” which is provocative to Israel. “President Obama will almost certainly face a serious crisis with Iran,” he says, most likely “in his first year in office.” It “can’t be solved unilaterally,” and it can’t be solved without the U.S. involved in negotations with Iran, something the Bush administration — like administrations going back to Jimmy Carter’s — rejected. It’s worth remembering that the National Intelligence Council no longer believes Iran has an active nuclear weapons program, though.

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