April 12th, 2010
08:17 AM ET
8 years ago

Obama hosts two-day summit on nuclear security


In advance of this week's nuclear security summit, President Obama held a series of bilateral meetings with other world leaders, including this one with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama hosts leaders from 46 countries for a two-day nuclear security summit starting Monday that will focus on how to better safeguard weapons materials, both old and new, to keep them out of the hands of terrorists.

The gathering at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation's capital is considered an unprecedented effort to rally global action on securing vulnerable nuclear materials.

It also is the centerpiece of a major Obama objective aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and technology.

As the summit begins, the United States is negotiating with the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council on tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

"The central focus ofthis nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said Sunday, appearing with South African President Jacob Zuma in Washington.

"This is something that could change the security landscape in this country and around the world for years to come. If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications - economicially, politically and from a security perspective - would be devastating. We know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and would have no compunction at using them."

Obama signed a new treaty with Russia last week to reduce the nuclear stockpiles of both nations, and his administration issued a revised U.S. nuclear arms strategy intended to reinforce the nation's nuclear deterrent while isolating terrorists and rogue states that fail to comply with international regulations.

It all fits together as an ambitious effort to mobilize a unified global effort against nuclear proliferation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in interviews broadcast Sunday.

"We want to get the world's attention focused where we think it needs to be, with these continuing efforts by al Qaeda and others to get just enough nuclear material to cause terrible havoc, destruction, and loss of life somewhere in the world," Clinton told the ABC program "This Week."

Of particular concern are older nuclear weapons and materials that aren't safeguarded as well as they should be, particularly in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union, Clinton said on the NBC program "Meet the Press."

It used to be considered a U.S.-Soviet issue, Clinton said, rather than the high international priority "we intend to make it in the coming week."

"Unfortunately, we have a situation in which there is a lot of loose nuclear material around the world," Obama said Sunday. "And so the central focus of this summit is getting the international community on a path in which we are locking down that nuclear material in a very specific time frame, with a specific work plan."

South Africa, he said, is a "moral leader" on the nuclear issue, since it began - and then dismantled - a nuclear program.

The summit's goal is to get an agreement and work plan on how each of the participating countries will control nuclear materials or otherwise prevent their spread, Clinton said on the CBS program "Face the Nation."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced last week that nations participating in the summit would be Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Vietnam.

In addition, the United Nations, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency will be represented at the summit, Gibbs said.

Obama also is holding bilateral meetings with some of the visiting heads of state, which started Sunday afternoon with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, followed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, South African President Jacob Zuma, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan and Acting President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria.

Obama's nuclear strategy has been criticized by Republicans as too weak in the face of threats and defiance by Iran and North Korea.

"While the treaty (with Russia) 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," Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said on the "FOX News Sunday" program. " I mean, it takes away the ambiguity about our use of nuclear power. Ambiguity in foreign policy is sometimes very useful."

On Sunday, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the Obama administration "poses a threat to international peace" and is "wicked and untrustworthy."

Khamenei made the remarks Sunday in a meeting with the Armed Forces chief of staff and other top military officials, according to IRNA. According to the news agency, Khamenei said Obama had recently threatened Iran with nuclear weapons, and called for Iran's military to prepare itself.

Khamenei apparently was referring to last week's announced shift in U.S. nuclear strategy, in which the administration said it would swear off developing new generations of nuclear weapons and would not use its existing arsenal to attack non-nuclear states that are in compliance with non-proliferation agreements.

Gates made clear Sunday that the new policy left Iran vulnerable to a U.S. nuclear attack because Iran refuses to comply with non-proliferation agreements.

"All options are on the table" regarding Iran and North Korea, which also defies international regulations, Gates said on the CBS program.

Clinton defended the Obama administration's policy of seeking a unified international response to Iran's nuclear ambitions, including stronger U.N. sanctions.

The policy, which broke with previous President George W. Bush's non-negotiation stance, has exposed Iran's intransigence, Clinton said on the NBC program.

Now, with the U.N. negotiations on tougher sanctions, "the Iranians have been beating down the doors of every country in the world to try to avoid" a new sanctions resolution, Clinton said.

However, when asked if Iran had the capability now to develop a nuclear weapon, Clinton avoided a direct answer, saying it was unclear.

Gates had no hesitation, declaring immediately that "it's our judgment here they are not nuclear capable."

"We're doing everything we can to try and keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons," Gates said, adding that there "probably" would be another Security Council resolution with tougher sanctions on Iran.

He called such a resolution both important on its own and as a legal platform for others to take their own steps.

"At the end of the day, Iran has to decide that not having nuclear weapons is a better defense strategy than having them," Gates said.

Updated: 5:48 p.m.

Filed under: Iran • Nuclear weapons • Obama administration • President Obama
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Keep doing your job Mr. President, God has your back.

    April 11, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  2. Centerleft

    President Obama is hosting world leaders and is on top the world. While Sarah Palin is trying to get a Animal Planet Network reality show. Wow! what a difference a year makes.

    April 11, 2010 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  3. Darnell

    Shouldn't all this been the PRECURSOR to winning a Nobel Peace Prize....not a guilty concious effort a year after winning it?

    April 11, 2010 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  4. jbakaregit

    I dare the GOP to stand in the way of this US/Russia treaty, something that was Reagan's dream to see come to pass.

    If they do, it will be more widely known that they are no longer the Party of Teddy Roosevelt (one of my favorite presidents), Eisenhower, and Reagan, but of Limbaugh, Palin, and Hannity.

    April 11, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  5. cassamandra

    on the road to earning his Nobel. Good man.

    April 11, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |

    Is this all the time he could devote to this important issue?

    April 11, 2010 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  7. jbakaregit

    Darnell, Obama worked on the non-proliferation issue with Republican Dick Lugar as a Senator (who's still working with him on this issue). This was also one of his highest priorities as a candidate for president.

    He also studied this issue as part of his international relations degree at Columbia University. The president didn't just start focusing on nuclear issues Jan 20, 2009.

    But if George Bush had gotten a Nobel, got a guilty conscience, then proceeded to make this issue (instead of perpetual & costly war with Iraq and Afghanistan) of his presidency, thereby making the world much safer, then all the better.

    April 11, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  8. BeverlyNC

    Thank goodness we have an intelligent President who understands the world will be safer with LESS nuclear weapons in it. The Allies can reduce stockpiles and together can control countries like Iran and North Korea.

    Thank goodness for President Obama and his great leadership! Another reason why he deserves the Nobel Prize- a more peaceful world, compassion and aid for Haitians, standing up for the average American in passing healthcare reform so we can no longer be bankrupted and abused by the insurance companies and more programs designed to restore America and make it a safer and more peaceful place.

    To protect our country and its future we need to vote out ALL Republicans in November. They are dangerously full of hate, racism, and violence. They have done NOTHING all year but spread lies and divide our country. They are not fit for any office.

    April 11, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  9. Barbara - a Canadian

    Thank you President Obama... – as a Canadian and one who shares this continent, I appreciate your efforts to minimize the threat to all from nuclear weapons. Those who denegrate your hard work and, indeed your motives, have a different agenda and are quickly identified.

    April 11, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  10. Sue

    Obama-–insults and stabs in the back our closest allies.

    The elections in November cannot get here fast enough.

    April 11, 2010 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  11. Kate

    Okay, Republicans....start growling about this!!!Then you will also be against Reagan! What a President.....go OBAMA go. You are working to make us safe!!

    April 11, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  12. Arnie

    Great Job Mr. President! The majority of Americans are praying for your success!

    April 11, 2010 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  13. Perusing-through


    While President Obama makes unprecedented strides to deal with tough, complex, and long overdue international nuclear issues that negatively impact every country on the planet; skunk-spitting Republican-GOP Obstructionist are attending an RNC meeting trying to figure out how to win the White House back in 2012.

    WELL HELLLOOOOOO!?!? If the GOP wants to win back the White House, than just follow President Obama's lead and work on SOLUTIONS!

    April 11, 2010 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  14. Perusing-through

    That is my President. Always staying above the fray and working to fix tough, complex, long overdue issues with realistic and pragmatic solutions; while Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich play "spin the bottle" in a skunk-spitting contest at the RNC SRLC Convention.

    My, my, my, , , why can't the Republican-GOP Tea Party understand how pathetic Independents, Moderates, Centrist, and the rest of the world see them?

    April 11, 2010 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  15. ender

    Shouldn't all this been the PRECURSOR to winning a Nobel Peace Prize....not a guilty concious effort a year after winning it?

    So, Im assuming from your Missive Darnell that you are under the impression Obama is only hosting these talks due to a guilty concious?

    Thats really a pathetic statement Darnell.

    April 11, 2010 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  16. Perusing-through


    Maybe President Obama should invite Sarah Palin to the summit so she can contribute her "international nuclear" policy expertise that she accrued while “seeing Russia from Alaska” as a half-term Governor.


    April 11, 2010 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  17. Indy

    Not one of these 46 countries wanted to hear one peep from the she devil Palin on nuclear security. This is a great President at work and Ronald Regan would be proud of Obama.

    April 11, 2010 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  18. German, Irish American

    jbakaregit-Are all Obama lemmings unable to think for themselves? Please show me where it was Reagan's "dream" to not retaliate against countries who attack us. When Reagan signed the nuclear treaty with Russia, he did not give up unlimited concessions to the Russians like Obama did in the treaty he signed. Also, Democrats in the Senate have expressed concerns with this treaty and have said they may not vote for ratification of the treaty.

    April 11, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  19. Maryellen

    Our President has nothing to have a guilty consious about, he is doing an outstanding job! God bless you Mr. President and please try to ignore all the mean spirited people who would love for you to fail.

    April 11, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  20. Marie MD

    Good luck Mr. President. The majority of us know you are doing your best for the USA and the world.
    Those naysayers don't understand anything past their narrow minded empty headed views.

    April 11, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  21. addon

    and all Sarah Failin can say is her usual cheerleader platitudes to a crowd a screaming lunatics that are disappointed the vapid governor didn't get her hands on the nuclear button.

    Why do these mental midgets get so much air time?

    April 11, 2010 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  22. Gerry NH

    This effort will fail too. It the OIL.

    April 11, 2010 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  23. frankD

    Will Sarah Palin be there too? After all she's an expert on Russia, since she can see it from her home. She knows a lot of other important stuff also. You betcha [wink, wink].

    April 11, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  24. obamarroids

    jbakaregit knows nothing about history. Reagan was not a treasonous fool. He would have never agreed to this.

    April 11, 2010 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  25. frank

    I tested nuclear weapons. We have cut back from the numbers we had. No reason we can't keep going. They have never been used. If we can agree with the Russians, then we can reduce the stockpile. They are expensive to maintain, and don't forget, SAC is gone. These kids dont' know what they're doing. If we are this bad, so are the Russians. A few hundred would be adequate. Especially at the yields we now have. We have NOTHING the size we dropped in WWII. They are much larger. Go look at the old photos. Think a larger area. Think of any large city you have driven in. Or live in. OR been to. We can cut back.

    April 11, 2010 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
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