x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Obama warns Iran: time running out for nuclear arms deal

Barack Obama says ahead of Seoul nuclear summit that hopes are receding for diplomatic solution to Iran standoff after warnings from Israel last month that it will consider military strikes against Iran rather than allow the country to become a nuclear-armed power.

US President Barack Obama looks through binoculars to see North Korea from Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarised Zone, the tense military border between the two Koreas.
US President Barack Obama looks through binoculars to see North Korea from Observation Post Ouellette in the Demilitarised Zone, the tense military border between the two Koreas.

SEOUL and BEIJING //Hopes are receding for a diplomatic solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme, the US president said yesterday ahead of a major summit in South Korea designed to prevent fissile material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Barack Obama made the comments in Seoul after warnings from Israel last month that it will consider military strikes against Iran rather than allow the country to become a nuclear-armed power.

"I believe there is a window of time to solve this diplomatically but that window is closing," said Mr Obama, speaking after talks with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes, although Israel, facing a shake-up in the regional balance of power, has threatened targeted strikes to stop it.

Mr Obama has cautioned Israel against using force against Iran while hopes remain diplomacy or sanctions could succeed, but has warned military action remains an option as long as Tehran presses ahead with its nuclear programme.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attending a security summit in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, maintained a defiant stance yesterday, calling on regional countries to resist "aggression" and criticising "occupiers" that "loot the resources and mines of Afghanistan".

In the South Korean capital, Seoul, one the largest gatherings of heads of state since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 begins today.

The presidents of the US, Russia and China - Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev and Hu Jintao - are among the 53 world leaders expected to commit to stricter measures to secure materials that could be used to make a nuclear weapon.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces will be representing the UAE.

"What will happen at the summit will be an incremental victory against the threat that material could be stolen," said Mark Hibbs, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Most of the nuclear material in the world is in the hands of a small number of countries, and most of the uranium is in the hands of the United States and Russia.

"It's very important to get some bigger commitments from these countries about the use of their nuclear material."

The gathering is designed to allow participants to show progress at the halfway point between an first summit in 2010 and a follow-up scheduled for 2014, by which time participants are to have made strides in safeguarding fissile material.

Over the past two decades, according to the United Nations, there have been more than 500 cases of nuclear material being lost or stolen.

The summit comes as a nuclear-armed North Korea has said it would to launch a rocket next month.

Mr Obama yesterday criticised North Korea over its plans to launch the satellite, a move widely seen as a test run for a ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead.

He said Pyongyang "will achieve nothing by threats or provocations".

"Bad behaviour will not be rewarded," he said after talks with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak.

In the past week in Seoul, teams of police in fluorescent yellow jackets set up crowd barriers and tested fire hydrantsaround the perimeter of the convention centre where the summit is to take place, and a shopping centre and metro station below the centre are due shut down for security.

For South Korea, the meeting is a chance to bring the international spotlight to the nuclear threat from its neighbour to the north, as well as to showcase its knowledge in civilian nuclear power. A South Korean consortium is building the UAE's planned US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) atomic power plant and is pursuing contracts in other nations.

North Korea, which yesterday ended the 100-day mourning period for its former leader Kim Jong-il, is planning the missile launch for the middle of April to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il-sung.

North Korea has indicated the rocket will be fired south, heading towards the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, all of which have been asked by the United States to call for the launch to be halted.

Manila has requested US help in monitoring the rocket amid concern debris could land nearby, although Pyongyang has insisted "a safe flight orbit" has been selected to ensure there is no risk.

Mr Obama yesterday said the launch would throw into a doubt a recent agreement under which the United States will provide food aid in return for North Korea's abandoning uranium-enrichment and rocket and nuclear tests.

Observers have seen the satellite launch as a chance for the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to flex his muscles as the untested 20-something - his exact age is not known - consolidates power after taking over in December.

Mr Obama contrasted the wealth of US-allied South Korea with the impoverishment in North Korea, hit by severe food shortages and which relies on aid.

He walked into the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea and peered at North Korea through binoculars, although there was bulletproof glass to protect him.

The US president said the trip made him feel he was "in a time warp".

"It's like you're looking across 50 years into a country that has missed 40 years or 50 years of progress," he said.

The DMZ stretches for 2km on each side of the 240km border that has separated the two Koreas since a truce was declared in the Korean War in 1953.

Over the decades it has seen occasional, sometimes deadly, flare-ups.

 

 

April Yee reported from Seoul and Daniel Bardsley from Beijing

 

 

dbardsley@thenatioanal.ae

ayee@thenational.ae