Europe security in focus at Washington nuclear summit

The White House is worried that attacks in Paris and Brussels have exposed the inability of European intelligence agencies to deal with fighters.

AFP| Last Updated: Apr 01, 2016, 08:28 AM IST
Europe security in focus at Washington nuclear summit

Washington: Boosting Europe`s shaky ability to thwart jihadist attacks will be the focus at a nuclear security summit hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington on Friday, amid concerns the Islamic State group is trying to get a "dirty bomb."

The White House is worried that attacks in Paris and Brussels have exposed the inability of European intelligence agencies to deal with fighters returning from the Middle East.

On Thursday, Obama spoke of the need to increase trans-Atlantic cooperation aimed at "rooting out foreign fighters, identifying potential attacks, cutting off financing."

Fears of attack were given a nuclear edge with the discovery of 10 hours of surveillance footage recorded by Islamic State operatives of a senior Belgian nuclear scientist.

"We have had good progress in ramping up airstrikes and pressure on ISIL in Iraq and Syria," Obama foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes said, using an alternate acronym for the IS group.

"We also believe it`s critically important that we`re working to disrupt plots, given ISIL efforts to move to more external plotting in Europe and other parts of the world."

"I think a focal point of the discussion tomorrow is going to be on what are we doing around intelligence and information sharing? How can we make sure that that`s happening as fast as possible? How can we make sure that we are aligning our respective protocols, so that we`re able to better monitor foreign fighters who may be leaving Iraq and Syria, and trying to come not just to Europe but to other countries?"

The summit opened Thursday with Obama trying to forge consensus among East Asian leaders on how to respond to Pyongyang`s recent nuclear and missile tests, which he said "escalate tensions" in the region.

In January, North Korea detonated a nuclear device and a month later launched a long-range rocket, the latest in a series of banned tests.

Obama met with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, and separately with Chinese President Xi Jinping, to make the case for increased pressure on the enigmatic North Korean regime.

"We are united in our efforts to deter and defend against North Korean provocations," Obama said after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

That includes discussions on the deployment of THAAD -- the Theater High Altitude Area Defense System -- a sophisticated missile system to South Korea.

But the move has raised concerns in Beijing, which is unhappy at the prospect that US missiles on its doorstep will further tip the balance of power in the Pacific towards Washington.

"It in no way threatens either Chinese or Russian or other security interests in the region and will do nothing to undermine strategic stability between the United States and China," insisted Dan Kritenbrink, Obama`s top Asia adviser.This is the fourth in a series of nuclear security summits convened at Obama`s behest. With Obama leaving office next year, it may well be the last.

But it risked being overshadowed by two men who were not even there: Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Experts say Putin`s refusal to attend has made substantive reductions in fissile material -- the vast majority of which is held by the militaries of Russia and the United States -- or make leaps on safeguards almost impossible.

"This nuclear security summit is supposed to address all of the (fissile) stocks, but truth is that all they address really is a small proportion of civilian stocks," Patricia Lewis, international security research director at British think tank Chatham House told AFP.

"President Obama`s initial idea was that (the summits) would address all fissile materials, but the truth is there hasn`t really been a discussion at the official level."

Rhodes described the lack of Russian participation as "counterproductive," adding that "nobody benefits from a lack or downgrading of collaboration on issues of nuclear security."

America`s presidential election also took center stage, with questions about Trump`s suggestion that Asian allies should develop nuclear weapons.

Following the Republican frontrunner`s declaration that as president he would withdraw troops from South Korea and Japan and allow those two countries to develop nukes, Rhodes offered a scathing rebuke.

"The entire premise of American foreign policy as it relates to nuclear weapons for the last 70 years has been focused on preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons," he said.

"It would be catastrophic for the United States to shift its position and indicate that we somehow support the proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Another cloud over the summit was the controversy caused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s appearance at a Washington think tank.

Erdogan faced noisy protests at the Brookings Institution, where he gave a speech defending his crackdown on Turkish media, a move that has already angered the White House.

Turkish security officials clashed with the crowd -- both sides exchanged insults and scuffled -- before local police were able to separate them.

The Turkish guards also set about the press. One aimed a chest-high kick at an American reporter attempting to film the harassment of a Turkish opposition reporter and another called a female foreign policy scholar a "whore."

Turkish security tried to prevent two Turkish journalists, one of them working for the opposition daily Zaman that has been seized by the government, from entering.

The US National Press Club lashed out at the actions, saying "Erdogan doesn`t get to export such abuse."