Teeing Up the Nuclear Summit: How the Obama Administration Views the Meetings Next Week

By MichaelJames

Apr 9, 2010 8:49pm

ABC News' Jon Garcia reports:

Stopping al Qaeda and other terrorist groups from getting nuclear material is one of primary goals of next week’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., White House officials said.

“It is absolutely fundamental to view this summit with the starting point of the grave nature of the threat of nuclear terrorism,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in a conference call with reporters. "We know that terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, are pursuing the materials to build a nuclear weapon, and we know that they have the intent to use one.”

The meeting of 47 countries is being billed as a “summit to rally collective action behind the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years,” a goal President Obama set last year, Rhodes said.

The summit follows closely on the heels of the signing by the United States and Russia of a new arms reduction treaty in Prague — a treaty that will cut nuclear warheads in each country by about 30 percent. Rhodes was participating in the teleconference from Air Force One while flying back to Washington from the Czech Republic.

The officials say they expect three main outcomes from the summit: an official communiqué recognizing the threat and endorsing Obama’s four-year goal; specific plans by certain countries to strengthen nuclear security; and specific actions by attending nations to reduce nuclear materials. 

By example, the officials cited Chile’s decision to remove all highly enriched uranium from its country and the U.S.-Russian agreement to get rid of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium by burning it in reactors.

“We’re planning that the summit will be the first to set in motion a series of follow-up actions, including meetings … every six months or so in order to judge progress in implementing the work plan,” said Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for WMD, counter-terrorism and arms control.

Missing from the summit will be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who earlier this week decided not to attend because other countries attending the conference likely were going to call on Israel to sign the non-proliferation treaty, a move Israel has resisted.

White House officials on the call declined to discuss the reasons for the Netanyahu’s decision, focusing instead on the fact that the Obama administration believes “that Israel will be represented by a very effective delegation that will be quite capable of joining with the other 46 nations in pursuing the kind of actions that are necessary to secure vulnerable nuclear materials,” Rhodes said.

What this summit will NOT focus on?  Dirty bombs — weapons designed more to throw nuclear debris than to cause massive destruction.

“Obviously, there is, I think, a very legitimate concern about the security of radiological materials that can be used for dirty bombs," Samore said, "and that’s certainly mentioned in the context of the summit communiqué and the work plan.  It’s an important issue, but it’s not the focus of the summit.  We’re focusing here on the most potentially catastrophic threat, which is terrorist groups acquiring or manufacturing nuclear explosives."

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