United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that the U.S. could not rule out using nuclear weapons if it came under biological attack, saying that in that case, “all bets are off.”
“If we can prove that a biological attack originated in a country that attacked us, then all bets are off,” Ms. Clinton said in an interview with CBS's ‘Face the Nation.'
She was referring to a new U.S. nuclear policy unveiled last week, which restricts the use of atomic weapons against non-nuclear states that comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Both Ms. Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in joint television interviews that Iran and North Korea represented exceptions to the limits on a U.S. nuclear response, as both have defied United Nations resolutions on their atomic programmes.
“We leave ourselves a lot of room for contingencies,” Ms. Clinton said.
Asked why Iran and North Korea were considered exceptions, Mr. Gates said: “Well, because they're not in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. So for them all bets are off. All the options are on table.”
Ms. Clinton and Mr. Gates said a new arms control deal with Russia and the revised nuclear policy would bolster President Barack Obama's diplomatic efforts to isolate Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.
On the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit, the U.S. on Sunday said the prospect of terrorists getting nuclear material was the “biggest threat” and that it wanted to focus the world's attention on outfits like the Al-qaeda trying to get atomic material to cause “terrible havoc.”
Ms. Clinton said the two-day summit, an initiative of President Obama, will focus on nuclear terrorism and ways to control it. To be attended by 47 world leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the summit will begin here on Monday.
“Part of the goal of the nuclear security summit is to focus on the threat from nuclear terrorism. And we don't believe the threat from nuclear terrorism comes from states. Our biggest concern is that terrorists will get nuclear material,” Ms. Clinton told ABC news.
“The threat of nuclear attack, as we grew up with in the Cold War, has diminished. The threat of nuclear terrorism has increased.
“We want to get the world's attention focused where we think it needs to be, with these continuing efforts by the Al-qaeda and others to get just enough nuclear material to cause terrible havoc, destruction, and loss of life somewhere in the world,” she added.
Ms. Clinton also explained the administration's position on the nuclear summit, the recent U.S.-Russia New Treaty and Afghanistan.
“We fear North Korea and Iran because their behaviour — as in the first case, North Korea already having nuclear weapons, and Iran seeking them — is that they are unpredictable. They have an attitude toward countries like Israel, like their other neighbours in the Gulf, that makes them a danger,” she said.
The U.S. was hence focusing on the two states, Ms. Clinton said, but it was also very concerned about nuclear material falling into terrorists' hands. “That's a concern that we all share,” she said.