The President’s high profile speech is upstaged by a North Korean missile
U.S. President Barack Obama went to the Czech Republic on April 5 and 41 years after Soviet tanks crushed the bloom of “Prague Spring” stood in the middle of that city and called for all nations to strive to rid the world of nuclear arms.
Reuters reported that it had echoes of famous cold war speeches like that of President John F. Kennedy who brought an entire city to its feet with his famous phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner.” [Photo is a link to the NY Times]
Even as President Obama spoke in Prague, North Korea launched a missile over the sea of Japan. While the debris from it reportedly fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean, it created world wide tension that the spread of nuclear weapons could not be checked. ABC news reported that military analysts say the Taepo-dong 2 missile has the potential of being able to reach Alaska, Hawaii, or the Western United States.
In response the President called on the U.N. to punish North Korea over the rocket launch. The New York Times reported that President Obama said that North Korea violated international rules when it unsuccessfully tested the rocket and he called on the Security Council to take action.
“This provocation underscores the need for action — not just at the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”
Stopping the spread of nuclear weapons takes on new importance
Speaking in Prague, Obama strove to turn back the worldview that the spread of nuclear arms is inevitable. At the same time he committed to taking concrete steps to controlling weapons grade materials while enabling reliable fuel services for civilian nuclear reactors.
Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked -– that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction. Such fatalism is a deadly adversary, for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.
And here are some additional highlights leading to an issue of immense interest to the global commercial nuclear industry, which is reliable fuel services.
* * * To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding and sufficiently bold.
* * *To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
* * * And to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons. If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them. That's the first step.
* * * And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation.
Reuters has additional highlights online. Full transcript courtesy of Time Magazine. Hat tip to Cheryl Rofer at WhirledView. See her blog for additional analysis of Obama's speech. As Cheryl writes, "he is really serious about this."
Kazakhstan offers nuclear fuel deal to U.S.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Kazakhstan, one of the world’s leading producers of uranium, said it would volunteer to host an international "nuclear fuel bank," where nations that renounce nuclear weapons can purchase fissile fuel for nuclear energy reactors. White House officials said that President Obama is seriously considering the offer.
The WSJ reported that after the Soviet Union broke up, Kazakhstan still had a nuclear arsenal of its own, which it voluntarily gave up.
An European Union diplomat in Prague familiar with the nuclear security issues told the WSJ Kazakhstan made sense as a potential site for a nuclear fuel bank. He said,
"This is one of the very few countries that had nuclear weapons and destroyed them. So Kazakhstan is a very interesting offer," the diplomat said, noting that the EU has given the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna €25 million ($34 million) to figure out how to structure such a fuel bank.
However, Kazakhstan is also an unstable dictatorship and might not sign up for the kind of transparency needed to operate the fuel bank. It is wholly within Russia’s sphere of influence so the fact that Obama is giving serious consideration to the idea may be a signal to Moscow that the U.S. is open to diplomatic agreements that span the entire range of nuclear issues.
The WSJ quoting a senior administration official, usually a code phrase for the Secretary of State, noted there hasn't been a final decision by President Obama, but he is considering Kazakhstan to be the host.
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