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Obama Presses World Leaders On Nuclear Terrorism

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

NPR's Mike Shuster has our story.

MIKE SHUSTER: Plutonium and highly enriched uranium. That was the sole focus of the nuclear summit - where the nuclear material is, where it's not secured and how to make it all secure. Why this focus? Because President Obama is convinced that nuclear terrorism, where a group like Al-Qaida might acquire some of this dangerous nuclear material, is the most pressing threat that the world now confronts.

BARACK OBAMA: Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history. The risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up.

SHUSTER: By the end of the summit today, the 47 nations represented agreed on the principles that will govern the lockdown of dangerous nuclear materials over the next four years. Already, the U.S. and Russia have announced a commitment to completing what's called a plutonium disposition protocol, according to Secretary of State Clinton, which the two nations have been working on for a decade.

HILLARY CLINTON: The United States and Russia will each irreversibly and transparently dispose of no less than 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium. Together that is enough material for nearly 17,000 nuclear weapons.

SHUSTER: In addition, Canada and the U.S. announced they will work with Mexico to remove its small supply of highly enriched uranium from a research reactor. Yesterday, Ukraine pledged to get rid of more than 100 kilograms of highly enriched uranium it possesses, a step it has been reluctant to take for more than 10 years. At a news conference as the summit ended, President Obama said the participants were unanimous in supporting this plan.

OBAMA: Today, we are declaring that nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security. We also agreed that the most effective way to prevent terrorists and criminals from acquiring nuclear materials is through strong nuclear security, protecting nuclear materials and preventing nuclear smuggling.

SHUSTER: The states attending the summit pledged to increase their financial support for the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is increasingly seen as the key international body on this. Britain's foreign secretary, David Milliband, believes the summit has established the best practices to safeguard vulnerable nuclear materials.

DAVID MILLIBAND: Out of this summit comes a clear gold standard for what nuclear security means. It's a gold standard that we want every country in the world to adhere to, and we want every country in the world to cooperate to achieving.

SHUSTER: Mr. Obama also sought to place this nuclear summit in the context of other efforts by his administration to refocus American nuclear weapons policy, such as the recently released Nuclear Posture Review and last week's signing in Prague of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.

OBAMA: This is one part of a broader comprehensive agenda that the United States is pursuing, including reducing our nuclear arsenal and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, an agenda that will bring us closer to our ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

SHUSTER: Mike Shuster, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.

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