A former US defense secretary has called on President-elect Joe Biden to reform the system that gives sole control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal to the president, calling it “outdated, unnecessary and extremely dangerous.”
The call from William Perry came the same day US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with the nation’s top military leader about ensuring that an “unhinged” President Donald Trump not be able to launch a nuclear attack in his final days in office.
“Once in office, Biden should announce he would share authority to use nuclear weapons with a select group in Congress,” said Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton.
He was writing in Politico magazine with Tom Collina of the Ploughshares Fund, which advocates for stronger nuclear controls.
They said Biden, who takes office January 20, should also declare that the United States will never start a nuclear war and would use the bomb only in retaliation.
The piece argues that the current system gives the president — any president — “the godlike power to deliver global destruction in an instant,” an approach the authors call “undemocratic, outdated, unnecessary and extremely dangerous.”
Perry, who was defense minister from 1994 to 1997, calls Trump “unhinged” and adds, “Do we really think that Trump is responsible enough to trust him with the power to end the world?”
American presidents are accompanied at all times by a military aide who carries a briefcase known as “the football” which contains the secret codes and information needed to launch a nuclear strike.
Perry and Collina warn that presidents possess the “absolute authority to start a nuclear war.
“Within minutes, Trump can unleash hundreds of atomic bombs, or just one. He does not need a second opinion. The Defense secretary has no say. Congress has no role.”
They then ask: “Why are we taking this risk?”
Such vast presidential authority, the article notes, dates from the waning days of World War II, when President Harry Truman decided, after the nuclear horror unleashed by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, that the power to order the use of atomic weapons should not be left in the hands of the military — that it should be up to the president alone.
China has powered up its first domestically developed nuclear reactor — the Hualong One — a significant step in Beijing’s attempts to become less dependent on Western allies for energy security and critical technology.
The reactor, which was connected to the national grid on Friday, can generate 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year and cut carbon emissions by 8.16 million tons, according to China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).
“This marks China breaking the monopoly of foreign nuclear power technology and officially entering the technology’s first batch of advanced countries,” CNNC said in a statement.
Nuclear plants supplied less than five percent of China’s annual electricity needs in 2019, according to the National Energy Administration, but this share is expected to grow as Beijing attempts to become carbon neutral by 2060.
Reducing its dependence on Western allies in critical high-tech sectors such as power generation is a key goal in Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan.
Billions of dollars in state subsidies have been given to Chinese companies to speed the process — a move that has angered China’s trade partners and sparked a protracted trade row with Washington.
Work on the Hualong One reactor started in 2015 and there are currently six other reactors under construction at home and abroad, state-owned plant operator CNNC said.
The Hualong One, deployed at a plant in east China’s Fujian province, will be put into commercial use by the end of the year after undergoing tests.
China has 47 nuclear plants with a total generation capacity of 48.75 million kilowatts — the world’s third-highest after the United States and France.
Beijing has invested billions of dollars to develop its nuclear energy sector in recent years as it struggles to wean its economy from coal.
Thirteen nuclear plants are under construction, more than in any other country, despite environmental and safety concerns.
In August 2016, officials were forced to shelve plans for a nuclear waste facility in Lianyungang, a city in eastern Jiangsu province, after a rare public protest by thousands of residents.
The Japanese city of Nagasaki on Sunday commemorated the 75th anniversary of its destruction by a US atomic bomb, with its mayor and the head of the United Nations warning against a nuclear arms race.
Nagasaki was flattened in an atomic inferno three days after Hiroshima — twin nuclear attacks that rang in the nuclear age and gave Japan the bleak distinction of being the only country to be struck by atomic weapons.
Survivors, their relatives and a handful of foreign dignitaries attended a remembrance ceremony in Nagasaki where they called for world peace.
Participants offered a silent prayer at 11:02 am (0202 GMT), the time the second and last nuclear weapon used in wartime was dropped over the city.
“The true horror of nuclear weapons has not yet been adequately conveyed to the world at large” despite decades of effort by survivors telling of their “hellish experience”, Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue said in a speech afterwards.
“If, as with the novel coronavirus — which we did not fear until it began to spread among our immediate surroundings — humanity does not become aware of the threat of nuclear weapons until they are used again, we will find ourselves in an irrevocable predicament.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in a message read by his undersecretary Izumi Nakamitsu, warned that “the prospect of nuclear weapons being used intentionally, by accident or miscalculation, is dangerously high.”
“The historic progress in nuclear disarmament is in jeopardy… This alarming trend must be reversed,” he said.
The number of participants in this year’s ceremony was reduced to roughly one tenth the figure in previous years due to coronavirus fears, with proceedings broadcast live online in Japanese and English.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refreshed his pledge that Japan would lead “the international community’s efforts towards the realisation of a nuclear-free world”.
Terumi Tanaka, 88, who was 13 and at his hillside home when the bomb hit Nagasaki, remembers the moment everything went white with a flash of light, and the aftermath.
“I saw many people with terrible burns and wounds evacuating … people who were already dead in a primary school-turned shelter,” Tanaka told AFP in a recent interview, saying his two aunts died.
Atomic bomb survivors “believe that the world must abandon nuclear arms because we never want younger generations to experience the same thing”, he said.
The remembrance comes as worries linger over the nuclear threat from North Korea and growing tensions between the US and China over issues including security and trade.
“I’m determined to keep appealing (to the world) that Nagasaki must be the last atomic bomb-hit city,” survivor Shigemi Fukahori, 89, said at the ceremony.
“I hope young people will receive this baton of peace and keep running.”
The US dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, killing around 140,000 people. The toll includes those who survived the explosion itself but died soon after from radiation exposure.
Three days later, the US dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing 74,000 people.
Japan announced its surrender in World War II on August 15, 1945.
The United States has never acceded to demands in Japan for an apology for the loss of innocent lives in the atomic bombings, which many Western historians believe were necessary to bring a quick end to the war and avoid a land invasion that could have been even more costly.
Others see the attacks as unnecessary and even experimental atrocities.
Last year, Pope Francis met with several survivors on visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, paying tribute to the “unspeakable horror” suffered by the victims.
In 2016, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima. He offered no apology for the attack but embraced survivors and called for a world free of nuclear weapons.
Iran’s nuclear body said an accident had taken place on Thursday at a construction site in a nuclear complex without causing casualties, state news agency IRNA reported.
“An accident occurred on Thursday morning and damaged a warehouse under construction in open space at the Natanz site” in central Iran, said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the country’s Atomic Energy Organisation.
Kamalvandi was further quoted as saying that the complex is currently inactive and there is no risk of radioactive pollution.
The accident did not result in casualties, he added, noting that the cause was under investigation.
He did not give any details on the nature of the reported accident.
Tehran announced in May last year that it was suspending certain commitments under a multilateral nuclear deal unilaterally abandoned by the United States in 2018.
The 2015 accord promised Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limiting its nuclear programme.
US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal was followed by Washington reimposing biting unilateral sanctions.
The Natanz facility is one of Iran’s main uranium enrichment plants.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Friday he wants to avoid war after Tehran and Washington appeared on the brink of direct military confrontation in early January for the second time in less than a year.
Ahead of parliamentary elections on February 21 — predicted to be a challenge for Rouhani’s camp — and amid high tensions between Tehran and the West over Iran’s nuclear programme, the president said dialogue with the world was still “possible”.
“The government is working daily to prevent military confrontation or war,” Rouhani said in a televised speech.
The region seemed on the brink of new conflict earlier in January after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad, prompting Iran to retaliate against US military targets in Iraq with a volley of missiles days later.
The strike caused significant material damage but no casualties, according to the US military.
Rouhani said the strike amounted to “compensation” for the death of Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s Middle East military strategy.
The tensions between the two enemies seemed to subside in the wake of the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner hours after the retaliatory strikes, as Iran was on high alert for US reprisals.
The tragedy killed 176 people, mostly Iranians and Canadians.
Canada’s foreign minister on Thursday vowed to push Iran for answers about the tragedy.
“Families want answers, the international community wants answers, the world is waiting for answers and we will not rest until we get them,” Francois-Philippe Champagne said in London.
Ottawa said earlier that US President Donald Trump’s policies had contributed to the heightened tensions that led to the catastrophe.
In June 2019, Iran and the US had also appeared to be on the brink of direct military confrontation after Tehran shot down a US drone it said had violated its airspace.
Trump said he called off retaliatory strikes at the last minute.
The animosity between Washington and Tehran has increased since Trump withdrew the US from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions.
In Iran, the air disaster sparked outrage and anti-government demonstration took place every day from Saturday to Wednesday.
Concentrated in the capital, they appeared smaller than a wave of national protests in November. Prompted by a fuel price hike, those demonstrations were met with a crackdown that left at least 300 people dead, according to Amnesty International.
Rouhani implicitly acknowledged a crisis of confidence in authorities but looked to regain control on Wednesday, calling for “national unity”, better governance and more pluralism.
On Thursday, Rouhani also defended the policy of openness to the world that he has pursued since his first election in 2013, and which Iran’s ultra-conservatives criticise.
“Of course, it’s difficult,” he acknowledged, but he added, “the people elected us to lower tensions and animosity” between the Islamic republic and the world.
Rouhani said that with the nuclear deal “we have proven in practice that it is possible for us to interact with the world.”
Rouhani was speaking the day before supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is expected to lead the main weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran for the first time since 2012.
Khamenei, who maintains the West is not trustworthy, bans dialogue with Trump.
‘High school bully’
On Thursday, Rouhani said Iran’s “daily enrichment” of uranium was currently “higher” than before the conclusion of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Rouhani, who instigated the negotiations, made the comments while justifying his nuclear policy and Iran’s progressive disengagement from the accord. He also stated his willingness to continue dialogue on the agreement.
In response to the US withdrawal from the deal and sanctions, an increasingly frustrated Iran has hit back with a step-by-step suspension of its own commitments under the deal, which drastically limited its nuclear activities.
On Tuesday, Germany, the UK and France — the three European parties to the deal — announced they triggered a dispute mechanism in response to the latest step back from the deal by Tehran.
But Germany on Thursday confirmed a Washington Post report that the US had threatened to impose a 25 percent tariff on imports of European cars if EU governments continued to back the nuclear deal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the European parties of having “sold out” the deal to avoid trade reprisals from the US and said Trump was again behaving like a “high school bully”.
According to a European Union Statement, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Zarif in New Delhi on Thursday and urged Iran to “preserve” the increasingly fragile nuclear deal.
European powers have violated a 2015 international nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign minister told a conference in India on Wednesday, a day after Britain, France and Germany launched a complaint against Tehran for non-compliance.
The European states initiated a so-called dispute mechanism process, saying Iran had progressively scaled back its commitments under the agreement.
The move, which came at a time of red-hot tensions between Iran and the United States, sparked anger in Tehran and on Wednesday Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif said Europe was being “bullied” by Washington.
“They are not buying oil from us, all of their companies have withdrawn from Iran. So Europe is in violation,” Zarif told a conference in New Delhi, saying the future of the deal now “depends on Europe”.
He added that the European Union “is the largest global economy. So why do you allow the United States to bully you around?”
The accord, which makes it significantly more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons undetected, was struck in Vienna by Iran, the three European nations, the United States, China and Russia.
The agreement allows a party to claim significant non-compliance by another party before a joint commission.
If the issue is not resolved by the commission, it then goes to an advisory board and eventually to the UN Security Council, which could reimpose sanctions that were lifted under the accord.
President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018. Since then Iran has walked back on its commitments including on processing uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.
Tehran’s latest step in January to forgo the limit on the number of machines used to make uranium more potent prompted the Europeans to trigger the mechanism.
But the three powers said they “once again express our commitment” to the deal and expressed “determination to work with all participants to preserve it.”
Iran’s foreign ministry said in response on Tuesday that “if the Europeans… seek to abuse (this process), they must also be prepared to accept the consequences”.
Russia condemned the “thoughtless” European move, warning it risked causing a “new escalation”.
A US State Department spokesperson said Washington fully supported the three countries, adding “further diplomatic and economic pressure is warranted”.
Zarif also said that the US killing on January 3 of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq had served only to strengthen the Islamic State group.
“I think the war against Daesh (ISIS) just suffered a major setback, and Daesh just won a major victory,” he said.
He also implied that the crisis sparked by the killing of Soleimani had contributed to Iran’s accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.
“Why did it happen? Because there was a crisis. People make mistakes, unforgivable mistakes, but it happened in the time of the crisis,” Zarif said.
The Pentagon’s top general said Friday the US military is ready for anything from North Korea in the face of Pyongyang’s ominous promise of a “Christmas gift” if Washington does not act to ease tensions.
“Korea is one of those places in the world where we’ve always maintained high levels of readiness,” said General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The US alliance with Japan and South Korea is “rock-solid,” he said.
“I think it’s prepared to defend the interests of the United States, Japan and South Korea at a moment’s notice,” he told reporters.
Milley declined to say whether US and allied forces in the region had stepped up readiness in the face of the possibility that North Korea could test a new nuclear-capable missile in the near future.
“North Korea has indicated a variety of things. And I think you’re aware of all those. So we are prepared for whatever,” he said.
Speaking next to Milley, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US was ready “to fight tonight” if necessary, but stressed the need for diplomacy with North Korea.
“I remain hopeful that we could get the process started again and remain on the diplomatic path,” Esper said.
Pyongyang has shown frustration at the lack of sanctions relief after three summits with President Donald Trump.
Earlier this month it promised a “Christmas gift” if the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year after it placed a moratorium on long-range missile tests.
US-North Korea negotiator Stephen Biegun — just confirmed to the number two position in the State Department — visited Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing this week for discussions on the regional security situation.
In Seoul, he called Pyongyang’s comments “so hostile and negative and so unnecessary.”
He challenged North Korea to restart discussions.
“It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here and you know how to reach us.”
A provocative missile test, he added, “will be most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.”
North Korea’s foreign ministry on Thursday criticised the United States as “foolish” for convening a UN Security Council meeting over growing concern about short-range rockets fired from the isolated state.
Washington on Wednesday used the meeting to warn of consequences for North Korea if it followed through with its promise of an ominous “Christmas gift” in the event that the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year.
“By arranging the meeting, the U.S. did a foolish thing which will boomerang on it, and decisively helped us make a definite decision on what way to choose,” North Korea’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
Trump has met three times with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, but frustrated North Korea is seeking a comprehensive deal that includes sanctions relief.
“The U.S. talks about dialogue, whenever it opens its mouth, but it is too natural that the U.S. has nothing to present before us though dialogue may open,” it added.
North Korea said it has “nothing to lose more and we are ready to take a countermeasure corresponding to anything that the U.S. opts for”.
At the UN Security Council, US ambassador Kelly Craft voiced concern that North Korea was indicating it would test intercontinental ballistic missiles “which are designed to attack the continental United States with nuclear weapons”.
But she said the United States, which used its presidency of the Security Council to convene the meeting, wanted to work towards a deal.
She appeared, however, to rule out meeting North Korea’s demands for an offer in the final weeks of 2019: “Let me be clear: The United States and the Security Council have a goal — not a deadline.”
North Korea on Monday slammed US President Trump for “bluffing” and called him “an old man bereft of patience” as Pyongyang ramps up pressure on Washington over stalled nuclear talks.
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un engaged in mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year.
Pyongyang has set Washington an end-of-year time limit to offer it new concessions in deadlocked nuclear negotiations, and has said it will adopt an unspecified “new way” if nothing acceptable is forthcoming.
Denuclearisation negotiations have been at a standstill since a summit in Hanoi broke up in February.
Trump has indicated that the option of military action was still on the table while downplaying Pyongyang’s actions, saying the North’s leader would not want to “interfere” with the upcoming US presidential elections.
“I’d be surprised if North Korea acted hostiley,” Trump said Saturday.
But Kim Yong Chol, who served as the North’s counterpart to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo until the collapse of the Hanoi meeting, slammed Trump’s “odd words and expression”, referring to him as a “heedless and erratic old man”.
“Our action is for his surprise. So, if he does not get astonished, we will be irritated,” Kim, now the chairman of the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
“This naturally indicates that Trump is an old man bereft of patience,” he said, adding: “From those words and expressions we can read how irritated he is now.”
The official noted that the North Korean leader had not used “any irritating expression towards the US president as yet”, but warned his “understanding” of Trump could change.
“He must understand that his own style bluffing and hypocrisy sound rather abnormal and unrealistic to us,” Kim said. “We have nothing more to lose.”
The North has raised tensions in recent months with a series of assertive statements and multiple weapons tests — including a “very important test” at its key satellite launch site at the weekend — as its negotiating time limit approaches.
Kim’s New Year speech, a key political set-piece in the isolated country, is also due on January 1.
On Thursday, the North’s vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui warned of again referring to Trump as a “dotard” — Pyongyang’s favoured nickname for the US president at the height of tensions in 2017.
Another senior official said last week that what gift the US receives for Christmas will depend entirely on Washington’s actions.
President Donald Trump warned Sunday that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un had “everything” to lose through hostility towards the United States after Pyongyang said it had carried out a major new weapons test.
“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweeted in response to the unspecified test at the Sohae space launch center.
The announcement of Saturday’s test came just hours after Trump said he would be “surprised” by any hostile action from the North, emphasizing his “very good relationship” with Kim.
Trump and Kim engaged in months of mutual insults and threats of devastation in 2017, sending tensions soaring before a diplomatic rapprochement the following year.
The pair have met three times since June 2018 but with little progress towards denuclearization. Pyongyang has set Washington a December 31 deadline to make new concessions to kickstart stalled talks.
“North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised,” Trump tweeted. “NATO, China, Russia, Japan, and the entire world is unified on this issue!”
Writing that Kim had “signed a strong Denuclearization Agreement” at their June 2018 summit in Singapore,” Trump warned: “He does not want to void his special relationship with the President of the United States or interfere with the U.S. Presidential Election in November.”
A spokesman for North Korea’s Academy of the National Defense Science said Saturday’s “very important test” would have an “important effect” on changing the “strategic position” of North Korea, in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
The statement did not provide further details on the test.
A senior US administration official earlier said Washington had seen reports of a test and was “coordinating closely with allies and partners.”
Trump indicated that military action was still possible when he was asked about Pyongyang on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Britain this week.
North Korea fired back that if the United States used military force it would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level.”
UN diplomats fear that North Korea will resume long-range nuclear or ballistic tests if no progress is made soon in talks with the United States.
Sohae, on North Korea’s northwest coast, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit.
But Pyongyang has carried out several rocket launches there that were condemned by the US and others as disguised long-range ballistic missile tests.
Following the Singapore summit, Trump said Kim had agreed to destroy “a major missile engine testing site” without naming the facility.
Kim then agreed to shutter the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures.
North Korea on Wednesday warned that if the United States used military force against Pyongyang it would take “prompt corresponding actions at any level”, in response to comments by US President Donald Trump.
Denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been deadlocked since a summit in Hanoi broke up in February, and the renewed threats come as a deadline set by Pyongyang for fresh concessions approaches.
Trump on Tuesday indicated that military action was still possible when he was asked about North Korea on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Britain on Tuesday.
“He definitely likes sending rockets up, doesn’t he? That’s why I call him ‘Rocket Man’,” Trump said of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“We have the most powerful military we’ve ever had, and we’re by far the most powerful country in the world. And, hopefully, we don’t have to use it, but if we do, we’ll use it. If we have to, we’ll do it,” Trump added.
Responding on Wednesday Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said he was “greatly disappointed” by Trump’s comments, the official KCNA news agency said.
He added that “the use of armed forces is not the privilege of the US only”.
“If the US uses any armed forces against the DPRK, we will also take prompt corresponding actions at any level,” he added, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
North Korea has demanded the US offer it fresh concessions by the end of the year — ahead of Kim’s New Year speech on January 1, a key political set-piece in the isolated country.
Pyongyang has also issued a series of increasingly assertive comments in recent weeks.
Earlier this week, KCNA quoted Vice Foreign Minister Ri Thae Song as saying: “What gift the US receives for Christmas depends entirely on the US’ decision.”