By: Walter Fick
White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON – Tomorrow marks the first day of the Nuclear Security Summit, but meetings are already planned for today as President Obama tries to reach out to other world leaders. Administration officials hail the summit as part of a global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism and secure vulnerable nuclear materials.
To kick off the Summit, Obama will hold four bilateral meetings at the Blair House today with the leaders of India, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Pakistan. A previously scheduled meeting with President Medvedev of Russia has apparently been delayed or canceled, though the White House has not yet commented on the schedule change.
On Monday, Obama will continue with at least four bilateral meeting, before individually welcoming each delegation to the Summit. Tuesday will include the main activities, such as two planner recessions with the delegations and a concluding press conference.
Obama’s officials have emphasized the need for this conference to make headway in global nuclear security. Obama has called the threat of nuclear terrorism one of his highest priorities and in the last week made two key steps towards improved nuclear security. Both the newly released Nuclear Posture Review and the new START treaty are designed to lower international tensions related to nuclear weapons. This week’s summit will draw much more focused attention on securing vulnerable nuclear materials and preparing countries to deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed terrorist.
“A nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is a danger to people everywhere — from Moscow to New York; from the cities of Europe to South Asia,” Obama said on Thursday. ”Next week, 47 nations will come together in Washington to discuss concrete steps that can be taken to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years.”
The promise to secure nuclear materials in four years was first made by Obama last year when he visited Prague to outline his plan for the future of nuclear weapons. Getting all nations on board with the plan, however, may be extremely difficult.
Past attempts to increase security around nuclear weapons have yielded minimal fruit. Some progress has been made, by converting many highly-enriched uranium reactors to using non-weapons grade uranium, but countries have often balked at US advice on how to secure reactors and testing sites.
One potential difference will be the new role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA recently had added to its mission the role of providing assistance and guidelines on what is adequate physical security for holding nuclear materials. Dr. Amano, the head of the IAEA, will be among those in attendance at the Summit. A head-of-delegation lunch on Tuesday will also focus on the role of the IAEA and how the agency can assist countries.
“It’s very important that we try to endorse and strengthen the role of the IAEA in this area,” Gary Samore, the White House Coordinator for WMDs, Counter-Terrorism and Arms Control, said.
Administration officials hope that the Summit will get countries to the point of making firm declarations of their intentions to strengthen the security surrounding their nuclear materials. Experts, however, warn that any advances in this area will likely be modest.
For more, tune in to WPRB 103.3FM at 12:30PM today to listen to an interview with nuclear security expert and Princeton University Professor Dr. Frank von Hilden, and be sure to check out wprb.com/news for more updates.