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CNN Today

Ted Turner Announces Creation of Nuclear Threat Initiative

Aired January 8, 2001 - 1:52 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: More serious stuff now. The man who's global news organization is credited with making our world smaller is hoping now to make it safer. Ted Turner, founder of CNN and currently vice chairman of Time Warner, today announced a new organization aimed at lessening the dangers of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, nuclear waste.

The list of nations known to possess nuclear weapons is longer than ever. Britain, France, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya are believed to be actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program if they don't have one already.

The new organization is being bankrolled by Mr. Turner and run by former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. Both men join us now from Washington.

Ted, first of all, the name of your new initiative is the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

TED TURNER, VICE CHAIRMAN, TIME WARNER: Well, it's an organization, it's going to be a foundation, a charitable organization, whose purpose is to try and help reduce the threat posed by nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, which are referred to as weapons of mass destruction.

WATERS: You said this morning, Ted, that every president since Johnson has been working toward elimination of nuclear weapons as dictated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but you also the threat in many ways has become more complex and dangerous.

What can you do that all these former presidents have been unable to do on this front?

TURNER: Well, we were referring to when they were president this country has -- has constantly supported the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and that's what we're referring to.

Basically, relations obviously have improved drastically between Russia, United States and China over the years since the COLD WAR has -- has ended. But we still have not been able to figure out how to get our -- the Russian and the U.S. nuclear arsenals off of very, very tight alert, or hair-trigger alert some people refer to it. And here we are 10 years after the Cold War ended and -- and there are a lot of concerns that something could go wrong. There could be an accident, miscalculation, and we might end up destroying the world.

And that basically is what this organization is going to try and be a catalyst for some action to make it a safer world.

WATERS: And Sam Nunn, a former senator, who spent a considerable amount of his career working on this subject, Senator Nunn, what are the pragmatic and effective steps that you referred to that you'll be taking here in the initial effort?

SAM NUNN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, first, I agree with Ted's description of our mission here. We are trying to reduce the risk of nuclear use and we are trying to reduce the risk of proliferation. We're also trying to build trust and transparency and security that are prerequisites to any kind of hope to achieve the Nonproliferation Treaty goals.

So in terms of pragmatic steps, you can start with nuclear materials that are excess in Russia and the former Soviet Union. We need to get them under control, we need to get them under safeguard. These materials can make bombs, thousands of bombs if they get in the hands of the wrong people. It could jeopardize our security and the security of the world.

So to consolidate the storage where we can have adequate safeguards around that storage is a very important goal. The U.S. government is already undertaking a lot of that. But there are big gaps between the threat and what our U.S. government can do. We need to help address those gaps and we also need to enlist others in the private sector as well as particularly our allies, who are nearly not stepping up to the plate to the extent needed, because this threat threatens us all.

Another arena is tactical nuclear weapons. We have not even started dealing with tactical nuclear weapons under the governmental programs we call the Nunn-Lugar programs.

Another area is the biological area. Nuclear weapons pose the gigantic danger, but biological and chemical weapons are the most likely to be used. And there are thousands of scientists in the former Soviet Union that know how to make these weapons, including chemical, biological and nuclear, but don't know how to feed their families.

So somebody's got to step up and deal with the human side of that. We can't do it all, but we hope to stimulate meaningful and constructive jobs in Russia. We'll have to have a lot of cooperation from the Russian government (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and other issues. But nevertheless, we hope to begin to help, some hope for gainful employment for people that we don't want to end up making chemical and biological and nuclear weapons in other parts of the world. So those are just a few of the things.

We know we have to work with government. Without government, there is no hope here. And even with the generosity of Ted Turner, which is almost unprecedented -- and I applaud Ted for this. He really stepped up to the plate in a big way. But even with that, governments have to initially in the final analysis put up most of the money.

But we hope to be a catalyst, as Ted said. We hope to have pilot projects. We hope to show the way, and we hope to educate people in this country and around the world for the continuing challenges, dangers as well as opportunities.

WATERS: I'm sorry. We've run out of time.

To you both, I wanted to ask you about to your own reaction to the new administration's plans to promote a missile defense shield for the United States. How does that complicate your plans? Ted, do you want to react to that?

TURNER: I'll let Sam handle that and.

WATERS: All right.

NUNN: We haven't got that as part of our official program. I just would urge the administration to consult closely with our allies, to consult with the Russians and the Chinese, and also to approach it as a technology, so we really look at the science of it, feasibility of it, cost of it, and consider it in the context of overall homeland defense.

Having said that, I think an accidental system certainly has merit. I think a regional theater system to protect our troops abroad has merits. And we'll have to look at the overall scope of homeland defense, because this is one real threat, but there are a lot of others out there.

WATERS: All right. Good luck to you both. Thank you, Ted Turner, Senator Sam Nunn. Nuclear Threat Initiative it's called. You'll be hearing much more about that in the days and weeks and years ahead.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Got some work ahead of them.



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