US President Barack Obama said yesterday the US would cut its own nuclear stockpiles further, as he warned North Korea and Iran to back down over their atomic plans.
Obama delivered a hard-hitting address in Seoul before a nuclear security summit opened, seeking to build global momentum in the drive to eliminate or safeguard material that could be used to make thousands of bombs.
He said major progress had been made since the initiative was launched two years ago, citing a number of countries that had removed their stockpiles and forecasting more commitments from other nations during the two-day summit.
“But we’re under no illusions. We know that nuclear material — enough for many weapons — is still being stored without adequate protection,” he said. “We know that terrorists and criminal gangs are still trying to get their hands on it, as well as the radioactive material for a dirty bomb ... the danger of nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security.”
Obama urged the leaders or top officials from 53 nations gathered in Seoul for the summit to “keep at it” and pledged further actions from the US, including efforts with Russia to jointly cut their stockpiles.
He said that, with more than 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons and 5,000 warheads, the US had “more nuclear weapons than we need.”
“I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal,” he said.
The atomic programs of North Korea and Iran were a key topic on the sidelines of the summit, although not officially on the agenda.
In North Asia, tensions have escalated in recent weeks after North Korea announced it would launch a long-range rocket in the middle of next month.
The US, South Korea and many other countries believe the launch is intended to test a missile capable eventually of delivering an atomic warhead.
Obama again told North Korea yesterday to abandon its nuclear ambitions, warning its erratic and provocative behavior would not be rewarded.
“By now it should be clear, your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it,” he said, in what he called a direct address to the North’s new leadership. “And know this — there will be no more rewards for provocations. Those days are over. This is the choice before you. This is the decision you must make.”
The nuclear-armed North insists its rocket launch would merely put a peaceful satellite into orbit.
South Korea announced yesterday it would shoot down the North’s rocket if it strayed into the South’s territory. Japan said last week it would do the same.
Obama also warned Iran in his speech that time was running out to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program through diplomacy.
“There is time to solve this diplomatically ... but time is short. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands,” he said.