Published January 29, 2009
It's official, but still unannounced: The White House has tapped Gary Samore, a veteran arms control negotiator in the Clinton Administration, as its new "czar" for preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.
Samore, a vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based non-partisan foreign policy think tank, formerly served as the National Security Council's senior director under President Clinton from 1996 to 2000 and has had years of experience negotiating non-proliferation treaties and agreements with difficult countries like North Korea.
The still-to-be created office in the White House, which may have a staff of as many as ten officials, elevates the arms control portfolio in the new Administration and the priority that President Barack Obama places on keeping WMD -related material and expertise out of terrorist hands and stopping the spread of such weapons, material, and knowledge to states that have not agreed to abide by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons treaties.
The 9/11 Commission recommended the creation of such a post in 2004, as has the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism, the so-called WMD Commission, which issued its report last December. The Bush Administration declined to create such an office, but candidate Obama spoke often about the need to reinvigorate arms control talks. In his inaugural address, President Obama vowed to work to reduce the size of nuclear arsenals as his third item on his foreign policy agenda, just after finding way to leave Iraq "responsibly" and forging a "hard-earned" peace in Afghanistan.
Samore's rumored appointment was initially reported by The Cable, Foreign Policy magazine's on-line news blog, which also said that Samore had not yet accepted the offer. Sources now say that Samore has agreed to accept the post, which associates say will provide even greater access to the president than he and other nonproliferation experts enjoyed under President Clinton.
In interviews and articles, Samore has been openly skeptical of North Korea's willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons program. As a State Department official, Samore helped negotiate the original 1994 agreement with North Korea. But in an interview last October, he said that the latest agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration, which called for Washington to remove North Korea from the list of terrorist-sponsoring states and requires North Korea to continue dismantling its plutonium facilities and permit inspections, was only a "very modest step forward." "It allows the next administration to carry on," he said. "But we shouldn't kid ourselves: This is only the very beginning of the toughest part of the negotiations," he said.
Samore was also skeptical of efforts to negotiate a protocol to the 1972 treaty banning the development and production of germ weapons, an effort that both the Clinton and Bush administrations ultimately abandoned as futile.
He is widely admired in arms control circles as an experienced negotiator and non-ideological pragmatist.
Prior to his job at the Council on Foreign Relations, he was Director of Studies and Senior Fellow for Non-Proliferation at the International institute for Strategic Studies in Britain. His main responsibilities included directing the think tank's program called "Fostering an International Consensus on Fighting the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)", which the IISS says seeks to "strengthen transatlantic cooperation and promote coordinated responses to threats posed by the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and missile delivery systems."