National Security

Obama Uses Summit To Push For Sanctions On Iran

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President Obama addressed the heads of state from 47 nations, and won promises of cooperation in denying terrorists access to nuclear materials Tuesday. The president also used the two-day nuclear security summit to pursue an array of other foreign policy goals, including sanctions against Iran and a floating valuation for the Chinese currency.


Now, the president wants support this week from dozens of world leaders for another ambitious goal - keeping nuclear weapons and nuclear materials safe and under tight control. The president called the nuclear summit he hosted here in Washington enormously productive. But he cautioned that success will not be measured in days or weeks.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama opened the nuclear security summit with a warning: That even a small amount of plutonium in the wrong hands could have catastrophic consequences. While the danger of another country launching a nuclear missile has gone down since the Cold War, he said, the threat of a terrorist armed with a nuclear weapon is greater than ever. By days end, all the leaders taking part in the summit were in agreement.

President BARACK OBAMA: Today, we are declaring that nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security.

HORSLEY: White House counterterrorism coordinator Gary Samore says the best way to deal with that threat is with tighter controls on the materials for making nuclear bombs.

Mr. GARY SAMORE (White House Counter-Terrorism Coordinator): Just like we guard gold in banks, we can guard plutonium in storage facilities.

HORSLEY: In a joint communiqu� issued after the summit, leaders unanimously endorsed President Obama's proposal to secure all vulnerable plutonium and enriched uranium within four years. Mr. Obama acknowledged thats an ambitious deadline.

President OBAMA: And we are under no illusions that it will be easy. But the urgency of the threat and the catastrophic consequences of even a single act of nuclear terrorism demand an effort that is at once bold and pragmatic.

HORSLEY: Several countries announced concrete steps to safeguard or eliminate their nuclear materials; others simply promised to act when it's technically or economically feasible. Russia and the U.S. dusted off a long-stalled agreement to dispose of nearly 70 tons of plutonium.

Samore says peer pressure at the summit helped push countries into action.

Mr. SAMORE: Whenever you bring leaders together, there's a lot of pressure to come with not just something positive to say but some demonstration of their commitment. And we used the summit shamelessly to ask countries to bring house guests.

HORSLEY: The summit was also a showcase for U.S. foreign policy, Obama style -heavy on international cooperation, with the U.S. leading by example. President Obama set the stage for the summit by signing an arms control deal with Russia, voluntarily slashing America's nuclear arsenal by 30 percent.

Questioned yesterday about the security of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile, Mr. Obama instead talked about how the U.S. has improved its own handling of nuclear materials.

President OBAMA: All of these efforts are connected. Leadership and progress in one area reinforces progress in another. When the United States improves our own nuclear security and transparency, it encourages others to do the same, as we've seen today.

HORSLEY: The president has also been working to build international support for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. After meeting this week with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mr. Obama said China had agreed to help craft a sanctions resolution - but he acknowledged those talks are difficult.

President OBAMA: You know, sanctions aren't a magic wand. What sanctions do accomplish is hopefully to change the calculus of a country like Iran so that they see that there are more costs and fewer benefits to pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

HORSLEY: While this week's summit was focused on keeping nuclear weapons away from terrorists, Mr. Obama said it's also important to address the root causes of violent conflict. He promised to keep trying to play the role of peacemaker in global hotspots like the Middle East.

President OBAMA: Whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower. And when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them, and that ends up costing us significantly, in terms of both blood and treasure.

HORSLEY: The president cautioned neither nuclear security nor Middle East peace is likely to be achieved quickly. He and other leaders are already planning for a follow-up summit on safeguarding nuclear materials two years from now in South Korea.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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