(photo credit: Associated Press)
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — In a sudden turnaround Thursday, the former Soviet republic of Belarus announced Wednesday that it will give up all its weapons-grade uranium.
The Belarus decision is a diplomatic victory for US President Barack Obama, who has set a goal of securing all the world's nuclear materials within four years as a centerpiece of his strategy for denying nuclear weapons to terrorists.
Belarus, which had been a holdout, was banned from an April nuclear
security summit hosted by Obama, along with Iran and North Korea.
The amount of material Belarus will send to Russia for disposal was not
mentioned but is believed to be enough to make at least several nuclear
bombs. Belarus, which gained independence in the breakup of the Soviet
Union, gave up its Soviet-origin nuclear weapons in 1994, but retained
highly enriched uranium stocks for research purposes.
US officials portrayed Belarus' sudden reversal as a recognition that it
would benefit from building a power-generating nuclear reactor that
runs on low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used to make nuclear
weapons without further enrichment. Clinton said the US would support
Belarus in its pursuit of such a reactor, but details were not released.
With its decision to give up its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium
by 2012, Belarus secured an invitation to the next nuclear security
summit, to be held in South Korea in two years. Earlier this month the
US completed, with British help, an even more ambitious project to
secure tons of highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium in
"We can be confident it will now never fall into the wrong hands," Clinton said of the newly secured Kazakh nuclear materials.