WASHINGTON (CN) – Leaders from more than 40 countries are in Washington for a two-day nuclear security summit addressing how to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said President Obama called the conference because world leaders “cannot afford to delay action” against the threat of nuclear terrorism.
The summit is “designed to get everybody on the same page when it comes to locking down loose nuclear materials,” Obama said.
Obama is hosting a working dinner Monday night to specifically address the threat of nuclear terrorism.
A host of bilateral meetings is taking place in conjunction with the conference. On Sunday, Obama met with heads of state from India, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Pakistan. On Monday, he is meeting individually with heads of government from Armenia, China, Jordan, Malaysia and Ukraine. More meetings will take place Tuesday.
Obama said he expects “some very specific commitments” on nuclear security from world leaders during the summit. Obama has said he wants leaders to secure the entire global store of nuclear weapons within four years.
“[O]ur expectation is not that there’s just some vague, gauzy statement about us not wanting to see loose nuclear materials,” Obama said. “We anticipate a communiqué that spells out very clearly, here’s how we’re going to achieve locking down all the nuclear materials over the next four years, and different countries, depending on their circumstances and vulnerabilities, taking very specific steps in order to assure that that happens.”
The conference will also serve as a platform for Obama to push his nuclear eradication campaign. One year ago, Obama stated that he wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons, a goal he said would likely not be accomplished in his lifetime.
In an interview last week, Obama called Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons “unacceptable,” and said the summit and upcoming non-proliferation treaty review conference show that “the international community is serious about Iran facing consequences if it doesn’t change its behavior.”
The summit is tightly focused on unsecured nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear terrorism. More general items related to nuclear issues will be addressed at the 2010 Review Conference for the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons next month in New York.
The conference comes right after the signing of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by Obama and Russian President Medvedev last week. The treaty limits the number of weapons in each country’s arsenal from 2,200 to 1,550 over the next seven years, a 30 percent reduction from current stores and the lowest levels in half a century.
Obama said he signed the treaty “to send a clear signal to the world that we were in the business of reducing our stockpiles in concert with the other major nuclear superpower, Russia.” Together, the United States and Russia possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.