Washington: US President Barack Obama will urge nations to agree to steps to ensure nuclear-related material is safe and inaccessible to terrorists when he hosts an unprecedented international summit next week in Washington, advisers said on Friday.
Obama wants to develop an action plan to set standards for securing nuclear stockpiles and accomplishing the goal within four years, the advisers said. That could include pursuing new agreements and strengthening existing ones, they said.
"The threat of nuclear terrorism is a very serious threat," said Gary Samore, the White House's senior director for nuclear non-proliferation.
Obama will host the two-day summit that begins on Monday and includes leaders and representatives from 47 countries. Thirty-eight heads of state are expected to attend as well as chiefs of the United Nations and its nuclear monitoring body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.
Rhodes said this is the largest gathering of heads of state hosted by a US president in decades.
"Nuclear security has not been addressed by this many nations at this level before," Rhodes said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech on the subject Friday that all nations must live up to their responsibilities to ensure nuclear material is safely stored.
"The potential consequences of mishandling these challenges are deadly," she said at a speech at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Hillary added that international protocols for handling nuclear material are "becoming increasingly fragile and we need a stronger hand."
Many nations will be asked to take concrete steps to demonstrate they are serious about safeguarding nuclear material. That will include urging nations to convert nuclear reactors from using highly enriched uranium, which can be used in a weapon, to the much safer low-enriched uranium, Samore said.
The summit is the first of Obama's broad agenda to address nuclear challenges that was outlined in celebrated speech in Prague a year ago when he announced his goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
Obama on Thursday signed a treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that would reduce nuclear warheads held by the two countries by one-third of currently deployed levels.
Aides say Obama's top priority though is to confront the possibility of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon and launching a devastating attack.
Hillary and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to sign a deal on Monday to implement an agreement for the two countries to each dispose 34,000 of weapons grade plutonium from existing stockpiles, Samore said.
The Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement has been in the works for more than a decade and was agreed to in principle in 2000, but Moscow and Washington had differed over protocols to implement the pact.
Obama will also be holding a series of separate bilateral meetings, including with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Pakistani Prime Minister Raza Yousef Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as with the leaders of Kazakhstan, South Africa, Jordan, Armenia and Malaysia.
First Published: Saturday, April 10, 2010, 09:45