In nuclear summit, Obama seeks global help in sanctioning Iran

President Barack Obama is set to host a two-day, 47-nation nuclear summit in Washington, with the goal of keeping nuclear materials away from terrorists.
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

President Obama used an unprecedented summit on nuclear terrorism Monday to press global leaders to support further isolating Iran for its nuclear activities, and the White House said that China's leader had agreed to cooperate with tightening U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic.

The Nuclear Security Summit is the first large meeting of world leaders focused on how to keep nuclear materials away from terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. The event drew 36 heads of state and delegations from 10 other countries to the city, which became a blur of flashing police lights and speeding black convoys.

U.S. officials structured the summit to avoid controversial topics and achieve broad agreement on improving security at places where nuclear material is stored: military installations, civilian research reactors and other facilities. But, in bilateral meetings leading up to the event, Obama sought to send a message to Iran -- which denies it is developing a nuclear weapon -- that it must heed international efforts to restrain its nuclear program.

White House officials said Obama told Chinese President Hu Jintao in a 90-minute meeting Monday that passing new U.N. sanctions against Iran is urgent.

"The two presidents agreed that the two delegations should work on a sanctions resolution in New York, and that's what we're doing," said Jeffrey A. Bader, the National Security Council's senior director for Asian affairs. The Chinese, he said, "made clear that they are prepared to work with us."

Bader called the meeting "another sign of international unity on this issue."

China has backed three previous sanctions resolutions on Iran, and its support is crucial because it is one of five veto-wielding members of the Security Council. Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for the Chinese delegation, was more cautious about Monday's meeting, indicating that the two sides still differ on the elements of a sanctions resolution. Ma repeated the standard Chinese diplomatic formulation, saying that Hu told Obama he hoped that countries would "actively seek effective ways to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations."

Iran was not invited to the summit. Nor was North Korea, which quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and has twice tested a weapon. But with a flurry of meetings on the sidelines of the summit, "those countries not here are not out of the agenda. People will discuss how to manage them," Finnish President Tarja Halonen said in an interview.

The summit comes at a key moment on the diplomatic calendar. In addition to the looming sanctions effort at the United Nations, nearly 200 countries are scheduled next month to consider strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the pact that long checked the spread of weapons but is now in danger of collapse. Fortifying the treaty is at the heart of Obama's nuclear agenda.

Joshua Pollack, a nuclear expert, said Obama's meetings Sunday and Monday with some of the less prominent world leaders, such as those from Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Ukraine, reflected preparations for next month's treaty conference in New York.

At that meeting, "every member state has an equal vote, even the ones that don't often dominate the headlines . . . so there's a courtship aspect," he wrote on the blog ArmsControlWonk.

The summit, which will continue all day Tuesday, will focus on the dangers posed by al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups obtaining lightly guarded nuclear material.

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