WASHINGTON President Barack Obama warned Tuesday that the risk of nuclear attack — not by an enemy nation, but from terrorists — was on the rise despite the end of the Cold War.
In excerpts of his opening address to the first full day of the 47-country Nuclear Security Summit, Obama described the new nuclear reality as a “cruel irony of history.” He called the conference with the goal of locking down all nuclear materials worldwide in four years.
“The risk of a nuclear attack has gone up,” Obama said, as terrorist organizations like the al-Qaida network try to get their hands on nuclear materials.
On the first day of the conference, the summit had already paid early dividends: China’s agreement to work with the U.S. on possible sanctions against Iran and Ukraine’s decision to rid itself of nuclear bomb-making materials.
Obama opened sessions Monday night after two days of meetings with selected presidents and prime ministers of the 47 countries assembled to recharge efforts to keep nuclear material out of terrorist hands. It ends Tuesday with a joint declaration to guide future work toward locking away and cleansing the globe of materials still too easily accessible to terrorists.
China’s incremental move toward U.S. ambitions to sanction Iran and Ukraine’s plans get rid of highly enriched uranium put some wind in Obama’s sails as he presses global leaders to join him in securing all nuclear materials within four years.
When the summit began in earnest on Tuesday, the focus was Obama’s goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, with efforts to lock down materials to build those bombs an urgent first step.
Tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium are believed to be insufficiently protected from international criminal gangs and terrorist organizations.
A report Monday by a Harvard nonproliferation found that Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile was the world’s least secure from theft or attack.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, in Washington for the conference, insisted that his country’s nuclear weapons are well-guarded.