x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Obama pledges cut in nuclear weapons stockpile

Barack Obama said yesterday he would slash more stockpiles of US nuclear warheads and will press Russia to do the same.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan shares a joke with Barack Obama before the nuclear security summit in Seoul.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan shares a joke with Barack Obama before the nuclear security summit in Seoul.

SEOUL // Barack Obama, the US president, said yesterday he would slash more stockpiles of US nuclear warheads and will press Russia to do the same.

Speaking on the sidelines of the world’s biggest summit of leaders on the nuclear issue, Mr Obama did not say how many more nuclear weapons the US would cut. But he said it would involve tactical nuclear weapons, as well as strategic and reserve warheads.

More than 50 heads of state and government are attending the Seoul summit, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

The Nuclear Safety Summit is the second meeting of world leaders on preventing nuclear weapons and material from falling into the hands of militants. The first was held in Washington in 2010.

Sheikh Mohammed said yesterday that the meeting represents “a fundamental part of international efforts” to eliminate the dangers of misappropriation of nuclear materials and technology, including the threat of “nuclear terrorism”, according to the state news agency Wam.

The UAE delegation includes Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister, Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Affairs Authority (EAA), Nasser Ahmed Al Suweidi, chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, Mohammed Mubarak Al Mazrouei, Under-Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court, Abdulla Khalfan Al Rumaithi, UAE ambassador to South Korea and Ambassador Hamad Al Ka’abi, the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr Obama and the outgoing Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty two years ago limiting Russian and US nuclear weapons to 1,500 each. Some analysts say the reduced stockpiles represent outdated weapons and that fewer advanced weapons are needed to maintain the same military capability.

Mr Obama urged Russia to reciprocate.

“I believe the United States has a unique responsibility to act. Indeed, we have a moral obligation,” he said in a speech at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in the South Korean capital.

“I say this as president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons” Mr Obama said. “I say it as a commander-in-chief who knows that our nuclear codes are never far from my side. Most of all, I say it as a father, who wants my two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can’t be instantly wiped out.”

The US president is expected to press Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president-elect, on the issue when they meet in the US in May.
Mr Obama said progress had been made in the past two years to secure nuclear weapons from militants. He said South Korea, Japan, Pakistan and others are building new centers to improve nuclear security and training while countries such as Kazakhstan have moved nuclear materials to more secure locations.

“But we’re under no illusions,” he added. “We know that nuclear material – enough for many weapons – is still being stored without adequate protection,” he said.

The United Nations say there have been more than 500 cases of nuclear material being lost or stolen in the past 20 years.
“We know that terrorists and criminal gangs are still trying to get their hands on it, as well as the radioactive material for a dirty bomb ... the danger of nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security,” Mr Obama said.

Although terrorism is supposed to be the focus of the meeting, volatile nuclear issues involving North Korea, whose border is just 40 kilometres from the site of the summit, and Iran – accused of running a nuclear weapons programme but which says its nuclear ambitions are only peaceful – have come to dominate the discussions.

The Syrian crisis has also been a subject of closed-door meetings between Mr Obama and the leaders of Turkey and Russia.
On Sunday, Mr Obama said there was a short “window of time” to solve the Iranian standoff over its nuclear programme.

The UN Security Council has demanded Tehran stop enriching uranium and Israel has threatened to militarily strike Iran. North Korea has also announced it would launch a satellite into space next month using a rocket that could also be used for nuclear warheads.

Although Pyongyang says the launch is for scientific research, many believe the ballistic missile launch is to test a rocket that could be used for a nuclear weapon, which the North has already tested.

The missile launch threatens to scuttle a recently concluded deal with Washington in which food aid would be exchanged for North Korea abandoning its nuclear-weapons programme.

Mr Obama said yesterday Pyongyang “will achieve nothing by threats or provocations” and he called on the North to have the “courage” to seek peace.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae