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Obama cites nuclear risk

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Hours after North Korea's missile test, President Barack Obama called Sunday for new U.N. sanctions and laid out a new approach to American nuclear disarmament policy — one intended to strengthen the United States and its allies in halting proliferation.

"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," Obama told a huge crowd in Prague's central square. "Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound. The technology to build a bomb has spread."

And yet, he said, too few resources have been committed to developing a strategy to stop terrorist groups like al-Qaida that are "determined to buy, build or steal" a bomb.

Obama said his administration would "reduce the role of nuclear weapons" in its national security strategy and urge other countries to do the same. He pointed to the agreement he reached last week with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia to begin negotiations on reducing warheads and stockpiles, and said the two countries would try to reach an agreement by the end of the year. He also promised to pursue American ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which in the past faced strong opposition in Congress.

It is a strategy based on the idea that if the United States shows it is willing to vastly shrink the size of its atomic arsenal, ban nuclear testing and cut off the worldwide production of bomb material, reluctant allies and partners around the world would be more likely to rewrite nuclear treaties and enforce sanctions against North Korea and Iran.

In his speech, he said a missile test carried out early Sunday by North Korea illustrated "the need for action, not just this afternoon at the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons."

"Rules must be binding," he said. "Violations must be punished. Words must mean something."

Those words were added to the tail end of a long-planned arms-control speech just hours before, after the president was awakened at 4:30 a.m. by his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, with news of North Korea's defiance.

The president quickly began talks with senior officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Despite his calls for action, it remained unclear exactly what the West would be able to do by way of punishing North Korea. President George W. Bush pressed for similar sanctions after the North's nuclear test in October 2006, but they had little long-term effect.

At the U.N. Security Council on Sunday, members were at an impasse on whether to condemn the test. The United States and its main allies — Japan, France and Britain — were pushing for a resolution denouncing the launch as a violation of the 2006 sanctions, which demanded that North Korea suspend any activity related to the launching of ballistic missiles.

As talks continued after a three-hour emergency session ended inconclusively, diplomats said that a main issue would be to determine whether the failed launch violated any resolutions.

The council adjourned after three hours and agreed to continue negotiations on a resolution in the coming days. "Every state has the right to the peaceful use of outer space," said Russia's deputy U.N. envoy, Igor Shcherbak.

"We think that what was launched is not the issue, the fact that there was a launch using ballistic missile technology is itself a clear violation," said Susan Rice, the American ambassador.

Obama arrived in Turkey Sunday night. He is to address the Turkish parliament today.

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

Obama cites nuclear risk 04/05/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 8:00am]
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