The 53-nation Nuclear Security Summit hosted by South Korea began yesterday with an opening speech by US President Barack Obama. Mr. Obama inaugurated the first Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC back in 2010. This year, delegates are supposed to share the progress made by their respective nations in terms of improving nuclear security since the first summit.
In his speech, Mr. Obama spoke mainly of nuclear terrorism, pointing out the importance of having security at nuclear facilities tightened and vulnerable material removed or destroyed. He also said that “there are still too many bad actors in search of…dangerous materials, and these dangerous materials are still vulnerable in too many places”.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, on the other hand, felt that there “is no effective way to deter terrorist groups from using nuclear materials once they have it.” He agreed with Mr. Obama, emphasizing that “the most optimal way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to promptly minimize and eventually eliminate excess nuclear materials, which can be used as ingredients for nuclear weapons”. Chinese President Hu Jintao merely pressed the group to work together on these issues.
Another topic that has thus far been featuring prominently in the meeting is North Korea’s satellite launch plan that is set to take place sometime next month. The launch is supposed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of ex-leader Kim il-sung. While not on the summit’s agenda, countries like Japan and the US have expressed particular concern over the subject. Despite Pyongyang being adamant about going ahead with the plan and refusing to heed the international community’s advice, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda pleaded once again for the cancellation of the rocket launch, saying that it “go against the international community’s nuclear non-proliferation effort and violate UN Security Council resolutions”. Seoul has warned that it will shoot the rocket down if it strays over South Korean territory.
In addition, Mr. Obama and Mr. Hu met on the sidelines of the summit yesterday and agreed to coordinate their response to any “possible provocation” if North Korea decides to go ahead with the launch. Mr. Obama has been pressing China to increase pressure on Pyongyang to halt its nuclear activities. According to US officials, Mr. Hu indicated that China is frustrated with North Korea’s new leadership under Kim Jong Eun and will most likely use its influence with Pyongyang to more strongly press its ally to cancel its plan for the satellite launch.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has also conveyed to Mr. Obama Moscow’s frustration with North Korea. Both the US and South Korea has said that the launch would lead to tighter economic sanctions on Pyongyang and render the six-party talks agreement void. The agreement, which requires that North Korea scrap its nuclear and long-range missile programs, currently includes food aid for Pyongyang.
However, it seems that increasing pressure from the international community will do nothing to change Pyongyang’s stance on the satellite launch. Just this morning, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, quoting the country’s foreign ministry, released a statement. The statement explicitly said that the North “will not give up the satellite launch for peaceful purposes, which is a legitimate right of a sovereign state and requirement essential for economic development.”
On another note, Mr. Obama touched briefly on the subject of Iran, and warned yesterday that “time is short” for reaching a diplomatic solution.
The conference is expected to conclude today.
Report: World leaders: Nuclear terrorism a ‘grave threat’ [BBC, 27 March 2012]
Report: North Korea refuses to halt launch plan despite Obama’s warnings [CNN, 27 March 2012]
Report: US says China is willing to lean on North Korea [Wall Street Journal, 26 March 2012]