In Geneva, Trump Administration Targets ‘Malign Actors’ and ‘Odious’ Regimes

By Patrick Goodenough | March 20, 2019 | 4:16 AM EDT

Assistant Secretary of State Yleem Poblete, the administration’s top arms-control official. (Photo: State Dep’t)

( – The U.S. has kicked off its rotating presidency of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) with a no-holds-barred speech targeting the “malign” actions of the likes of Russia, Iran, and the “odious” Assad and Maduro regimes.

Speaking at the U.N.-linked forum in Geneva, Assistant Secretary of State Yleem Poblete referenced a host of specific U.S. arms control-related concerns.

“Violations and malign actions by rogue regimes and other states around the globe only serve to increase tensions,” the administration’s top arms-control official told the gathering. “Accountability is critical.”

Among the concerns she cited in a lengthy statement were:

--Iran’s ballistic missile development and unlawful arms transfers, including provision of missiles to the Houthi militia in Yemen;

--Russia’s use of chemical weapons in an attempted assassination in Britain;

--The Assad regime’s use of banned chemical weapons and Moscow’s attempts to help cover it up;

--Russia and China’s developing of anti-satellite weapons, raising the risk of conflict in space;

--Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty through the development and deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile of a type and range banned by the treaty;

--President Vladimir Putin’s unveiling over the past year of sophisticated new strategic weapons systems, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-armed underwater drone, and a ground-based laser weapon;

--North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs; Poblete reiterated that abandoning both in their entirety was essential if Pyongyang is “to achieve the security and development that it seeks.”

Of the six regimes Poblete focused on, Venezuela’s Maduro regime alone did not come in for criticism over specifically disarmament-related matters.

Instead she accused the regime – “aided and abetted by Russia and Cuba and China” – of using repressive tactics against the National Assembly and its leader Juan Guaido, whom the U.S. and more than 50 other governments recognize as interim president.

Venezuela is in line to assume the CD presidency – which rotates in alphabetical order every four weeks – in late May. Poblete said the U.S. hoped to see Caracas represented at the time by the U.S.-recognized Guaido administration.

‘It seems the truth hurts’

Poblete concluded her global review of “malign actors” by noting that three delegations at the CD in particular spent their time during meetings last month lecturing other members “to maintain professionalism.”

“The three delegations were Iran, the Maduro-backed Venezuela, and Russia,” she said. “Take a moment to let that sink in: Iran, the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and the Russian Federation.”

The Conference on Disarmament meets in Geneva. (UN Photo by Violaine Martin)

Poblete urged the CD “to muster the political will necessary to confront these malign actors and to hold them accountable. And we thank those nations which have had the courage to do so already.”

Among the first to react to her statement was the representative of Iran, who described Poblete’s words “cheap, unprofessional, false, irrelevant and pathetic” and accused the U.S. of trying to “sabotage” the CD.

In return, U.S. Ambassador to the CD Robert Wood commented on Twitter that “Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, took offense at [Poblete’s] hard-hitting speech today in the CD condemning malign actors & their impact on disarmament. It seems the truth hurts.”

The Maduro regime’s delegate accused the U.S. of trying to install a “puppet president” in Venezuela, and dismissed Poblete’s remarks as “absurd.”

And from the Kim Jong Un regime came the complaint that the U.S. continues to make the lifting of sanctions contingent on denuclearization.

North Korea has not carried out nuclear or missile tests for 15 months, said Pyongyang’s representative, yet Washington remains set on the “preposterous argument that sanctions relief is impossible prior to denuclearization.”

The CD is the U.N.’s multilateral disarmament negotiating forum, established in 1979. Its agenda includes weapons of mass destruction – it drafted the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1992 – reduction of armed forces and budgets, and the goal of eventual complete disarmament.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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