Obama and world leaders look to secure all nuclear material by 2014 after summit

The world leaders attending President Barack Obama’s nuclear security summit agreed to secure all loose nuclear material by 2014.

The agreement gave the administration a final victory in its two-day gathering, which focused on the growing nuclear threat.

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Obama acknowledged Tuesday that the goal is “ambitious” and said the leaders were “under no illusions that it will be easy.”

But the president boasted that the summit, attended by more than 40 world leaders, had led to “unprecedented progress” on nuclear security issues.

In their final communiqué, the attendees set out broad but general goals: They agreed on the “urgency and seriousness” of the nuclear threat, agreed to maintain “effective security” of their own nuclear plants and materials and agreed to a “sustained, effective program of international cooperation” on nuclear security.

But there were no binding agreements. The leaders have agreed to gather again in South Korea in 2012.

There were, however, other happenings for the administration to highlight.

On Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave Obama a boost when he agreed to shut down the country’s last weapons-grade plutonium factory in a formerly secret Siberian city.

“I welcome this significant announcement from President Medvedev,” Obama said in a statement. “This important step forward continues to demonstrate Russia’s leadership on nuclear security issues, and will add momentum to our shared global effort.”

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. and Russia agreed to convert 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium to use for electricity, an amount that could have been used to make 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Obama also appeared to make some slight progress, throughout the course of the summit, in securing China’s agreement in pushing for sanctions on Iran.

After meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday, the White House was thrilled to announce that China has signaled “they’re going to work with us.”

On Tuesday, Obama sounded more cautious, noting that he is “mindful” that China and other countries have oil interests in Iran and worry about what effect economic sanctions could have on the larger global economy.

But Obama said he pressed Hu and other leaders and takes some measure of satisfaction that the Chinese have sent officials to the United Nations in New York City “to begin the process of drafting a sanctions resolution.”

Even though the president warned that “sanctions aren’t a magic wand,” he said he pressed the Chinese and others to develop meaningful sanctions because “words have to mean something.”

“There have to be some consequences,” Obama said.

Obama and his aides have claimed they made tremendous progress in bringing along U.N. Security Council holdouts Russia and China, arguing that such progress would have been unthinkable a year ago. As permanent members of the Security Council, Russia and China could veto any plans for Iran sanctions.

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Obama acknowledged there is still a lot of work to do.

“These negotiations can be difficult,” Obama said. “I’m going to push as hard as I can to make sure that we get strong sanctions that have consequences for Iran as it’s making calculations about its nuclear program.”

Despite those difficulties, the president said again that he wants to see sanctions approved and in place within weeks.
Obama repeated Tuesday that he will push for the Security Council to “move forward boldly and quickly to send the kind of message that will allow Iran” to change its nuclear goals.