Obama knocked for skipping nuke meeting

The Obama administration is skipping a nuclear arms conference for the second time in a row, irritating arms-control advocates.

The U.S. and the four other designated "nuclear-weapon states" — Russia, China, France and Britain — are all boycotting this week's meeting in Mexico because of concerns that it could be used as a forum to push for the elimination of their stockpiles.

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All five also declined to send a delegation to the inaugural Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, held last year in Oslo, Norway.

“The absence of the five original nuclear weapons states in Mexico will only deepen the frustration of the nonnuclear-weapon states about the slow pace of progress toward the fulfillment of the nuclear-weapon states disarmament commitments,” said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. “Rather than dismiss or boycott conferences on the topic, the United States should actively participate and join other nations in a statement on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and the need to prevent any exchange of nuclear weapons.”

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Kimball said the goal of the conference was never to launch negotiations on a nuclear weapon ban, because it would never go anywhere without the participation of nuclear-armed states. Rather, the purpose is to highlight the devastating humanitarian consequences of using nuclear weapons and the need to prevent their exchange or transfer.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is preparing to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the president's historic speech calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, rhetoric that helped get him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

“Today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama said at during his April 5, 2009 speech in Prague. “I'm not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, 'Yes, we can'.”

The administration strongly denied Thursday that the president was backsliding on those goals.

“After careful consideration, the United States has decided not to attend Mexico’s February 13-14 conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Our decision does not indicate any lessening support for nuclear disarmament,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told The Hill in an email.

“We continue to take very seriously the consequences of nuclear weapons use,” Harf said. “It is in our interest, as well as the interest of all nations, to extend the nearly 70-year record of nuclear weapons non-use forever. We remain committed to practical step-by-step disarmament and will continue to take steps toward securing a world without nuclear weapons.”

Harf pointed to the elimination of 85 percent of the U.S. nuclear stockpile since its Cold War peak and the recent New START Treaty with Russia as signs of progress. She added that Obama has “reaffirmed his desire to take additional steps along the path to achieving a world without nuclear weapons” and that this would be a topic of discussion during next month's Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague.

While the Obama administration's decision to skip the conference has been discreet, in Britain the same decision from Prime Minister David Cameron has set off a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers on all sides.

“We should be there. I cannot understand why we are not [going]", The Guardian quoted former British defense minister and chairman of the defense committee James Arbuthnot as saying.

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