White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON – After a profitable opening day at the Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama hopes for further gains in promoting an international cooperative effort to secure fissile materials. Yesterday, Ukraine announced that it will remove its entire highly enriched uranium stockpile by 2012. Canada also announced that it would be transferring highly enriched uranium back to the United States.
These announcements came amidst a long and strenuous push by the Obama administration to develop a global consensus on the need to take action to secure nuclear materials. Both highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons. Obama has called the threat of nuclear terrorism the single greatest threat to US national security.
Last week, administration officials said that they hoped for nations to announce concrete steps that they would take to secure their nuclear materials. This morning, Obama reiterated the need for these steps and the dangers of nuclear materials falling into the hands of terrorists.
“This is an unprecedented gathering to an unprecedented threat,” he said referring to the Summit. ”The risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up. The dangers of nuclear terrorism are one of the greatest threats to global security.”
Obama appeared encouraged yesterday by Ukraine and Canada’s announcements. Prior to officially greeting the heads of delegation for the 46 other nations attending the Summit, he called the first day’s progress impressive.
“I think it’s an indication of how deeply concerned everybody should be with the possibilities of nuclear traffic,” he said. ”I think at the end of this we’re going to see some very specific, concrete actions that each nation is taking that will make the world a little bit safer.”
In other important news from the Summit’s sidelines, China has apparently agreed to pursue a new round of sanctions against Iran. This could be a major victory for the US and its allies, who have been pushing for months for new sanctions. Western governments believe that Iran is enriching uranium in order to pursue nuclear weapons. Tehran claims that their program is for strictly peaceful purposes.
This will be the fourth round of sanctions against Iran, which has continued for years to enrich uranium in violation of the 2006 UN Security Council Resolution 1737. Iran recently heightened tensions by announcing the planned construction of several new underground reactors. China, which has strong economic ties with Iran, has generally opposed sanctions against the regime.
“China always believes that dialogue and negotiation are the best way out for the issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. ”Pressure and sanctions cannot fundamentally solve it.”
Nevertheless, the White House appears encouraged about the prospects of Chinese cooperation after yesterday’s bilateral meeting between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. The US needs China’s support because of China’s veto ability within the UN Security Council.
“The discussion was as sign of international unity on Iran,” Obama aide Jeff Bader said. ”The two Presidents agreed to instruct their delegations to work on a sanctions resolution. The resolution will make clear to Iran the costs of pursuing a nuclear program that violates Iran’s obligations and responsibilities.”
The White House said that specifics were still being worked out but would be finalized in the coming days and weeks. Obama has pushed for a resolution to be passed this spring. His goal of banning investment in Iran’s energy sector, however, may face continued resistance from Beijing and Moscow.
Today, President Obama is holding two plenary sessions with delegates at the Nuclear Security Summit. He will also continue bilateral meetings with the leaders of Turkey, Argentina and Germany. Administration officials expect more concrete measures to secure nuclear materials to be announced later in the day.