With China on board nuclear summit, challenges still remain

White House: the administration is looking for “dramatic reductions” in the nuclear arsenal.

April 6, 2010 04:17
3 minute read.
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. (photo credit: AP)


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WASHINGTON – With China agreeing to participate in the nuclear security summit US President Barack Obama will preside over here next week, the US got a significant boost from an important nuclear player.

In a sign of a thaw in relations with one of the world powers most skeptical of sanctions against Iran, Chinese participation in the high-level personage of Chinese President Hu Jintao indicates a potential willingness to come on board.

It also lends some heft to a conference aimed at pushing countries to pledge they will better secure their nuclear material in the coming years and otherwise help thwart nuclear terrorism. But the challenges are daunting.

“In April 2009, US president Barack Obama identified nuclear terrorism as the gravest threat to the United States,” notes the overview of a Council on Foreign Relations report by Jack Boureston and Tanya Ogilvie-White. But they also note that “debates in the main decision-making bodies in Vienna and New York reveal strong resistance to measures that would strengthen the nuclear security regime.”

The Obama administration will be trying to overcome that resistance as leaders of some 40 countries, including Israel, Russia, Pakistan and India, convene in the US capital for a summit that is just one of several upcoming nuclear-related events dedicated to achieving Obama’s goals of reducing and safeguarding nuclear weapons internationally.

On Tuesday, the nuclear posture review is due to be published, giving a framework for the administration’s stance on the use and handling of nuclear weapons. A White House official quoted anonymously by AFP said the administration is looking for “dramatic reductions” in the nuclear arsenal and that the posture will “point to a greater role for conventional weapons in deterrence.”

Then Obama flies to the Czech Republic – where he first outlined his vision of a nuclear-free world one year ago – at the end of the week to sign a historic arms-reduction treaty with Russia.

The nuclear security summit next Monday and Tuesday is sandwiched between an upcoming conference at the United Nations aimed at reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which many western countries would like to see strengthened given its exploitation by rogue states like Iran, but given the scores of countries involved, consensus will likely be very hard to come by.

The heavy agenda is seen by the White House as an end in and of itself – with concrete measures such as arms-reduction treaties and securing nuclear material from terrorists – but also help push a broader goal of American legitimacy in the nuclear weapons realm.

Upon announcing the agreement on the new US-Russian treaty, Obama described the treaty as a “clear signal that we intend to lead.”

He explained that “by upholding our own commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities.”

But Iran, one of the top targets of American efforts to control nuclear production and use, announced that it would be holding its own nuclear summit on the heels of the American one in what is seen as another act of defiance by Teheran, which is currently under UN Security Council sanctions for refusing to halt uranium enrichment and not coming clean about its nuclear program.

Iranian officials are claiming that China has agreed to participate, though China has said it has not yet made a decision to do so.

China, however, hosted Iran’s top nuclear negotiator this past week and has so far not confirmed American reports that it has expressed greater willingness in approving another round of UN sanctions against Iran – one of its major sources of energy – even though it agreed to attend next week’s Washington summit.

The ambiguity and complicated relationships underscores the challenges the administration faces in its ambitions.

“The goal is to retire our current Cold War nuclear policy and set a US nuclear policy that prevents, deters, or defeats the diverse threats of the 21st century,” wrote nuclear non-proliferation expert Joe Cirincione in the new International Institute for Strategic Studies journal. “The outcomes of these policy events will determine if that happens.”

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