- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

PRAGUE — President Obama on Sunday set out the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, during a major speech here to several thousand people that advisers said was aimed largely at reducing the threat of an attack by terrorists or rogue nations.

Mr. Obama, in his third European country in the past few days, delivered the set piece of his swing through the Continent hours after North Korea launched a missile that could be used in the future to deliver a nuclear warhead.

The president called the North Korean launch a “provocation.”

“Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. Now’s the time for a strong international response.”

But in a speech that had been planned for some time, Mr. Obama unveiled a new set of measures designed to lead nuclear powers toward reducing their stockpiles of weapons and to work on “locking up” all “vulnerable” nuclear weapons around the world that could be obtained by terrorist groups.

Speaking on a large raised platform to an estimated 20,000 people in Hradcany Square, Mr. Obama called nuclear weapons “the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.”

“In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black markets trade in nuclear secrets and materials. The technology to build a bomb has spread,” he said.

Using an argument that was used to justify much of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and its “war on terror,” Mr. Obama said that “terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal [a nuclear weapon].”

But Mr. Obama’s talk of eliminating all nuclear weapons was something President Bush never mentioned as a goal or strategy. Mr. Obama acknowledged that some would call him naive for even talking of such a thing, but said the United States has to try.

“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act,” he said. “Now we have to ignore the voices that tell us the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes we can.’”

But his advisers acknowledged that while some of the measures Mr. Obama announced were aimed specifically at stopping terrorists from gaining nuclear weapons, the call to aim for a net zero world was also a messaging strategy that will help them “mobilize international pressure” on North Korea and Iran.

“We are trying to seize the moral high ground. That’s in our national security interest,” said Gary Samore, White House coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, security and arms control.

The president himself said in his speech that “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.”

But while one man in the vast crowd yelled for the United States to “disarm now,” Mr. Obama made clear that America will have nukes as long as other countries do.

“Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies - including the Czech Republic,” he said.

But Mr. Obama did say that the United States “will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge other nations to do the same.”

Specifically, he outlined several new policies.

The White House will seek Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which already has been signed by 148 countries, excluding the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, and North Korea.

The Obama administration also will seek a new international treaty to stop the production of more nuclear weapons.

“The U.S., U.K., France, and Russia have already declared a moratorium on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. Additional countries that would be affected by this new treaty include China, India, and Pakistan,” a White House document said.

To prevent terrorist groups from obtaining nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama announced “a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.”

“We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials,” he said, adding that the United States will host a global summit on the matter.

And Mr. Obama proposed “an international fuel bank so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation.”

The president also spoke to the Czech crowd about U.S. plans for a missile defense system based in their country and in Poland, a priority under President Bush aimed at stopping missile attacks from Iran or other rogue nations. Russia has strongly opposed such a plan and said they think it’s aimed at them.

Mr. Obama, to applause, said that the United States will “go forward” with the plan “as long as the threat from Iran persists.”

“If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed,” he said, not mentioning that Russia’s cooperation in pressuring Tehran to drop its nuclear program is a key component of this scenario.

Before his speech, Mr. Obama held separate meetings with Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who recently called Mr. Obama’s economic plans a “road to hell.”

Mr. Topolanek, however, had nothing but nice things to say to Mr. Obama in person, greeting him at a meeting of European Union leaders later in the day and saying with a smile, “Brilliant speech.”

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