President Barack Obama hails nuclear security progress

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- President Barack Obama declared Tuesday that a security summit took "concrete steps" to prevent nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists even though Russia and China failed to sign an agreement to beef up inspections.

One of the key results emerging from the two-day summit was that 35 countries pledged to turn international guidelines on nuclear security into national laws and open up their procedures for protecting nuclear installations to independent scrutiny. The summit also featured new reduction commitments, with Japan, Italy and Belgium agreeing to cut their stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

"This was not about vague commitments; it was about taking tangible and concrete steps to secure more of the world's nuclear material so it never falls into the hands of terrorists, and that's what we've done," Mr. Obama said.

The U.S. president initiated a string of summits in 2010 aimed at preventing terrorists from getting their hands on weapons-grade nuclear material. He hailed the progress made so far as a "fundamental shift in our approach to nuclear security." Since 2010, the number of countries that have enough material to build a nuclear weapon has fallen from 39 to 25.

"I'll close by reminding everyone that one of the achievements of my first summit in 2010 was Ukraine's decision to remove all of its highly enriched uranium from its nuclear fuel sites," Mr. Obama said. "Had that not happened, those dangerous nuclear materials would still be there now. And the difficult situation we're dealing with in Ukraine today would involve yet another level of concern."

Despite the progress made so far, analysts said Tuesday's key agreement on turning guidelines into law needs more support. Notably absent from the agreement were Russia, China, India and Pakistan. North Korea and Iran were not even invited to the Nuclear Security Summit.

"We need to get the rest of the summit members to sign up to it, especially Russia, and we need to find a way to make this into permanent international law," said Miles Pomper of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

The plan unveiled by the foreign ministers of the Netherlands and South Korea and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz involves countries adopting as law guidelines drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The initiative shows commitment to take the lead when it comes to voluntary implementation of a number of IAEA recommendations and guidelines," John Bernhard, a former Danish ambassador to the IAEA, said.

"Hopefully, there will be an ambitious follow-up in the United States in 2016 aiming at the continuous improvement of nuclear security," Mr. Bernhard said.

Michelle Cann of the Partnership for Global Security said Tuesday's deal was significant because it marks "a change in the way security is done."

Ms. Cann said the gains from reducing nuclear material will likely trail off in the future. Without a global treaty on nuclear security, the next phase in improving security will be for groups of like-minded countries to lead the way. That, she said, will put peer pressure on nations as none will want to be seen as the most lax.


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