Nuclear summit to face challenge of reining in loose weapon materials

A year ago in Prague, President Barack Obama pushed a three-pronged plan to move toward a world without nuclear weapons -- and announced a Global Nuclear Security Summit in 2010 to help make that happen.

Unlike the whittling of state stockpiles agreed upon with Russia last week, the focus of this week's summit is the nuclear threat posed by non-state actors including terrorists and smugglers. The goal is to brainstorm solutions on how to rein in unsecured nuclear materials and combat nuclear smuggling, and make pledges on concrete actions toward that.

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In a press briefing Friday, Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for WMD counter-terrorism and arms control, and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes stressed that the summit is dedicated to nuclear security and the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Samore said the nuclear security aspect would have a tight focus on controlling the acquisition of separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium. "If we’re able to lock those down and deny them to non-state actors, then we have essentially solved the risk of nuclear terrorism," he said.

The goals of the summit will be to issue a high-level communique recognizing the threat of nuclear terrorism, an endorsement of Obama's goal to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials over a four year-period, and pledges from participant countries to move forward on nuclear security.

Samore said the countries would agree to a specific work plan in conjunction with the communique, and "there will be a number of national actions that countries will announce in the context of the summit."

"Putting together that kind of comprehensive agenda with a sense of urgency is absolutely necessary given the nature of the threat and given our ability to work together to address it within the next several years," Rhodes said.

Forty-seven nations will be represented at the summit that runs Monday and Tuesday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Nine countries -- Algeria, Australia, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Poland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom -- are sending a high-level representative in place of a president, prime minister, chancellor or monarch. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, representing the only one of those countries to be a declared nuclear weapons state, is staying in the UK to concentrate on a tough re-election fight.

Also coming are U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano.

Poland is sending Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. President Lech Kaczynski, a big proponent of the Eastern European missile shield pushed by President George W. Bush to defend from an Iran strike, was killed in a plane crash in Russia on Saturday.

Obama has planned bilateral meetings with President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine, President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia, President Hu Jintao of China, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak of Malaysia, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of Pakistan, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

The U.S. currently conducts the U.S. Nuclear Smuggling Outreach Initiative with Kazakhstan, Armenia and Ukraine, as well as Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, in response to the concern of nuclear materials on the loose since the Soviet Union broke apart. Kyrgyzstan has been embroiled in a government overthrow in recent days, though, and is not sending a representative to the summit.

The bilaterals kicked off Sunday at Blair House and were to continue through Monday at the convention center.

Obama will host the heads of the delegations for a working dinner on Monday night, while Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will host a dinner for foreign ministers and nuclear officials.

Lawmakers including Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who has long taken up the issue of nuclear weapons threats, will also attend some of the events.

But as the foreign representatives gather, Obama faces myriad challenges not only in the broad disarmament goal but also in the potential of nuclear materials falling into the wrong hands.

Soon into his term, Obama initiated the surge of forces in the Afghanistan war, which has roused insurgent sentiment both there and across the border in havens in Pakistan -- a country where a shaky government guards a nuclear arsenal.

North Korea has refused to return to six-party talks and on Friday vowed to continue expanding its nuclear arsenal, denouncing Obama's policy as "hostile." The country has been sharing its nuclear technology with other parties such as Iran.

Iran has continued to be belligerent in the face of possible new sanctions in response to its rapidly growing nuclear program, which the Islamic Republic claims is for peaceful energy purposes. Critics not only fear that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons, but could share such materials with terror groups.


On Sunday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Obama "has implicitly threatened Iranians with nuclear weapons."

And following an extended tiff over new construction in East Jerusalem, Israel, a suspected nuclear state of its own that could unilaterally act on its own against Iran's expanding nuclear program, pulled its head of state out of the summit last week. Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor is now attending in place of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Clinton, when pressed about Netanyahu's no-show on ABC's "This Week, said, "that's a decision for every government to make as to who comes and who doesn't come."

Speculation has arisen that Egypt and Turkey were planning to call out Israel on its own suspected nuclear program at the summit, but Clinton said nuclear terrorism by non-state actors was the focus of the summit.

"We fear North Korea and Iran because ... they are unpredictable," Clinton said.

"So we are focusing on the two states, but we are also very concerned about nuclear material falling into terrorists' hands," she said. "And that's a concern that we all share."

Lawmakers saw the summit as the opportunity to bring up a range of nuclear issues, including the president's new policy that states the U.S. won't use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.

"While the treaty may be in the right direction and the nuclear summit that's coming to town may be an impressive group of people, the nuclear posture statement that the president put out is troublesome to me," Sen. Lamar Alexander said on "Fox News Sunday."

"The summit is a good idea, because it's all about stopping the spread of nuclear weapons to non-state actors, terrorist groups and criminal gangs," Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

"But look, we've been negotiating, the Europeans have, for three or four years with the Iranians. We've been talking nice to them. We've been offering them opportunities to avoid a conflict. And all they do is continue to move ahead with a nuclear weapons program."