Obama invokes spectre of al-Qa'ida to focus minds on nuclear deal

President tells leaders at summit: secure your loose atomic material or it will fall into terrorist hands

President Barack Obama will today attempt to corral the leaders of more than 40 nations into adopting a joint strategy to lock down all loose nuclear materials within four years.

The summit, which deliberately will not tackle sensitive issues such as expanding production of fissile materials by India and Pakistan, is meant to give new impetus to combating the dangers of terror networks like al-Qa'ida acquiring and detonating either nuclear or so-called dirty bombs. Mr Obama has introduced the gathering by evoking a doomsday scenario of terrorists trying to detonate an atomic device in "New York City, or London, or Johannesburg".

Mr Obama, who has made non-proliferation the main focus of his energies in the past week, will tell the other world leaders that the transfer of materials that could be used in such devices, like plutonium and enriched uranium, now presents the single greatest threat to world security.

The communiqué tonight will not be binding, but delegates, who include the leaders of Russia, China, Pakistan, India, South Africa and most European states, will be pressed to provide firm details both of the steps they will take to secure the materials and the money they mean to provide to help it happen.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, last night said her government was ready to provide new financing to strengthen the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "We are ready to pledge additional finances to make this happen," she said.

Like some other Europeans, Ms Merkel is anxious to emphasise the particular danger presented by "dirty bombs" rather than actual nuclear ones, which, if detonated, would shower large areas with radioactive materials which could leave affected populations with long-term health hazards. These sorts of weapons "must not under any circumstances" fall into the hands of terror groups, she suggested.

Mr Obama insisted that the outcome would be meaningful. Before the conference opened, the White House said that Ukraine will get rid of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, enough to build several nuclear weapons, by 2012.

"Our expectation is not that there's just some vague, gauzy statement about us not wanting to see loose nuclear materials," said Mr Obama. "We anticipate a communiqué that spells out very clearly, here's how we're going to achieve locking down all the nuclear materials over the next four years, with very specific steps."

And he spelled out the risks of inaction. "We know that organisations like al-Qa'ida are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon – a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using," the President said as the first of the delegations arrived in Washington. "If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically, and from a security perspective would be devastating."

Today's meeting, which opened with a working dinner last night, was born of Mr Obama's pledge a year ago to pursue a nuclear-free world.

It is one of four pillars of a strategy that has already featured the signing of a new arms-reduction pact with Russia and the release last week of a new US nuclear posture that envisions a reduced dependence on nuclear weapons for its defence. Next month, meanwhile, sees the start of a new review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York.

While the leaders of Pakistan and India are both in Washington, officials admitted there would be no serious discussion of their race to produce materials to expand their nuclear arsenals. By some estimates, there is already enough nuclear material floating around to make as many as 100,000 new atom bombs.

"President Obama is focusing high-level attention on the threat that already exists, and that's tremendously important," said former US Senator Sam Nunn, who leads a think-tank on safeguarding global nuclear stockpiles. "But the fact is that new production adds greatly to the problem."

The ability of Pakistan to safeguard its stocks is of particular concern because of the Taliban insurgency in the country and the presence of al-Qa'ida forces there.

It is a worry that Mr Obama attempted to play down however. "I am confident that Pakistan has secured its nuclear weapons," he told The New York Times. "I am concerned about nuclear security all around the world, not just in Pakistan but everywhere."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor