Obama Accepts Nobel As Momentum, 'Call To Action'
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In accepting the Nobel Prize for peace this morning, President Obama noted that the prize has sometimes been awarded to give momentum to great causes, and he made it clear that he wants to give momentum to his own. One of those causes is reducing the world's nuclear stockpiles.
President BARACK OBAMA: We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations, in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people. And that's why we've begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.
INSKEEP: That's President Obama, speaking a short time ago at the White House. NPR's Michele Kelemen covers the State Department for NPR, and she's one of those who is listening in. Good morning, Michele.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Let's talk about nuclear weapons. What has the president done on that score?
KELEMEN: Well, you weren't - you might remember that there was this special summit at the United Nations that he held on this. He got the whole Security Council to pass a resolution 15 to nothing in favor of the idea of a nuclear-free world. And part of this is the bargain that he's trying to create that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is still the deal that we should be working off of. That means that the U.S. and other nuclear powers have to reduce their strategic arsenals, and that's supposed to send a signal to countries like Iran, that they should be upholding up their end of the bargain, that they can have a peaceful program but not a nuclear weapons program. So, you know, he's done that.
He had this very symbolic sort of important summit meeting at the Security Council that he chaired - first time chairing something like that. He's sending Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, off to Moscow. She's leaving today on a trip, and that's to start these negotiations with Russia on reductions.
INSKEEP: But your mention of Iran underlines what has yet to be done and some of the challenges here. This is a president who has said he will do whatever is necessary to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon - not that he's taking war as his first choice, but war has to be - or some kind of force has to be in the background of that debate over keeping nuclear weapons away from Iran.
KELEMEN: At this point, what they take mainly, the two tracks, is diplomacy versus sanctions. I mean, they're keeping it in this diplomatic realm, and they did take part in this - they call it the P5-plus-1, the permanent five Security Council members, plus Germany - meeting with Iran. Had a pretty substantial, 45-minute sidebar conversation with the Iranians. There's this agreement, in principal, at least. It still has to be worked out at a meeting later this month about taking some of the Iranian stockpiles out of Iran to be processed for medical fuel - medical isotopes to go back to Iran.
So there is movement on the negotiating track, here. You know, whether or not that's Nobel Prize-winning award is a much different story.
INSKEEP: I want to ask you about another part of this speech before I let you go. I'm paraphrasing, here. He said that he accepted the prize as a call to action, not just for America, but for all nations. What's significant there?
KELEMEN: Well, you know, he's talked a lot about going back to the United Nations, working multilaterally. And you certainly heard - we heard from the -U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saw this Nobel Prize as an affirmation of that part of the policy, that unlike President Bush, which - who was seen as very unilateralist - the Obama administration comes in to be more multilateral in dealing with these issues.
INSKEEP: But he's not just being nicer, here. He's saying I'm going to be nicer to you, but I expect something from it.
KELEMEN: And that was exactly the message that he brought to the U.N. General Assembly earlier in the month.
INSKEEP: Michele, thanks very much.
KELEMEN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen, speaking with us on this morning when President Obama has said he will accept the Nobel Peace Prize, although he said at the White House this morning it's an award that he does not deserve.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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