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Obama Opens 47-Nation Nuclear Security Summit


President Barack Obama says the 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit he is hosting here in Washington will produce specific, concrete actions to make the world safer.  The president says he wants new commitments to secure nuclear materials to keep them out of the hands of terrorists. With concerns about the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea a major backdrop to the conference, this is the biggest U.S.-sponsored gathering of world leaders in more than 60 years.

With this summit and efforts to follow, President Obama faces a test of his ability to further a nuclear agenda focused on nonproliferation and countering potential nuclear terrorism, with support from like-minded nations.

All of the world's major nuclear powers are here - Russia, China, Britain and France - along with South Asian nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.  Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, but has never confirmed their existence, is also represented.

North Korea, which is believed to have tested a nuclear weapon in 2006, was not invited nor was Iran, which is still engaged in a standoff with the international community over its uranium enrichment program that Tehran maintains is for peaceful purposes and not for nuclear weapons.  Syria was also not invited.

Iran dismissed the outcome of the Washington conference in advance as it faces the possibility of a fourth round of sanctions under a U.N. Security Council resolution that President Obama says he hopes can be finalized in coming weeks with support from Russia and China.

President Obama greeted each delegation on Monday at the summit site, before the leaders went into a working dinner.

John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, called the threat of nuclear terrorism real and growing.  Although there is no indication that al-Qaida has a nuclear weapon, he said every step must be taken to ensure that it does not acquire one.

"I am determined to ensure that they are not going to be able to obtain that type of capability," said John Brennan. "And the best way to do it as we continue to degrade and destroy al-Qaida is to take away the opportunities they may have to acquire the fissile material, highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium, or the expertise that is required to use that fissile material to create an improvised nuclear explosive device."

Saying some countries need to do a better job of "locking down" nuclear materials, Brennan added that a key goal is to ensure that nations understand their responsibilities.  

In bilateral meetings with countries such as Kazakhstan and Ukraine, President Obama appears to have achieved the support he wants for the final communiqué to be issued on Tuesday, committing nations to securing nuclear materials over a four year period.

To that end, the White House announced an agreement in which Ukraine committed to eliminating its stockpile of highly enriched uranium by the time of the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012, with a substantial amount to be removed by the end of this year.

Saying this was something the United States had sought for more than a decade, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about the commitments President Obama wants to see from the summit.

"There are a host of roles that the countries represented here can play," said Robert Gibbs. "Again, some have that highly enriched uranium that we are seeking to secure, others can play an effort in how to secure that.  Others can play an effort in the interdiction of these types of materials in the event that they leave where they are."

President Obama's 90-minute meeting with China's President Hu Jintao produced what U.S. officials describe as an agreement that Iran must meet its international nuclear nonproliferation obligations.  White House national security aide Jeff Bader said President Hu shared U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program and the overall goal of preserving the nonproliferation regime, adding that the two presidents agreed to instruct U.N. delegations to work with the P5 + 1 on a new Security Council sanctions resolution.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told reporters after the meeting that China hopes the Iran issue can be resolved through dialogue and negotiations.

On concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, a White House statement after the president's Sunday meeting with Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the Pakistani leader gave an assurance that his country "takes nuclear security seriously and has appropriate safeguards in place."

Vice President Joe Biden hosted leaders and officials from 11 Non-Aligned Movement nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, telling them that "adding more nuclear weapons or more nuclear-weapon states is the exact wrong approach at this moment in the world's history."  

President Obama has two additional bilateral meetings scheduled on Tuesday - one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the other with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey.

As for the location of the next Nuclear Security Summit, White House spokesman Gibbs says there will be an announcement on that on Tuesday at the conclusion of the Washington conference.   

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