By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
IIP Staff Writer
During a two-day security summit in Seoul March 26–27, President Obama will discuss his ongoing commitment to nuclear nonproliferation and efforts to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists or criminal organizations, say senior White House advisers.
The summit follows on Obama’s 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington and is being held by one of the United States’ strongest allies, South Korea, a cornerstone of its approach to Asia, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said in a pre-trip March 20 background briefing for journalists. Rhodes said that in addition to emphasizing nuclear security, the summit also brings focus to the U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.
The 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit is expected to draw national representatives from approximately 58 nations and international organizations, including 48 heads of state.
Obama set his vision for ridding the world of nuclear weapons and how to get there in an April 5, 2009 speech at Hradcany Square in Prague, the Czech Republic, that quickly became a central theme of his presidency. The setting for the president to lay out his goals in Seoul will be a speech March 26 before the summit begins at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He will address the increasing role that South Korea is playing not just in Asia but on the global stage, and he will reaffirm the strength of the U.S.–South Korean alliance, Rhodes said.
The president will have “an opportunity to walk through his goals for the Nuclear Security Summit and his nuclear security nonproliferation agenda more broadly,” Rhodes told journalists. Obama will stress the U.S. commitment to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials from terrorists and extremist groups, and continued efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, including proliferation challenges posed by Iran and North Korea, Rhodes said.
At the same time the president will stress the U.S. commitment to peaceful nuclear energy as an important part of his energy policy for the United States and as an energy resource around the world, Rhodes said.
Rhodes said that the president arrives in Seoul on March 25. He will visit the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas and see American troops serving on the Korean Peninsula. Obama will then hold talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, which will be followed by a joint press conference and a dinner.
The United States recently concluded a free-trade agreement with South Korea that aims to strengthen economic ties between the two allies, he added.
Obama will also hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey on March 25. “This will be an opportunity for him to continue his close consultations with Erdoğan about a range of regional security issues, to include our shared commitment to see a transition to democracy in Syria, our support for political and economic reform across the Middle East and North Africa, and the ability to discuss Iran and other regional security issues,” Rhodes said.
On March 26 Obama will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Rhodes said. It will be the final meeting with Medvedev as president of Russia. Bilateral meetings are also planned with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and others.
Obama will also meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss security and economic issues, Rhodes said. Following those meetings the president will attend a working dinner with other leaders attending the summit. The full summit begins on March 27.
Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism, told journalists that following the 2010 security summit there were a list of actions that governments had committed to that would strengthen security over nuclear materials, minimize the use of those materials in peaceful programs, and strengthen cooperation in efforts to prevent terrorists and criminal groups from obtaining nuclear materials.
“In the two years since the Washington meeting, governments have been very effective in carrying out commitments they made,” Samore said. Based on an outside study that assessed those efforts, “80 percent of the national commitments made in Washington have already been completed, which is a pretty good batting average.”
Samore said the United States expects that the Seoul Security Summit will provide an opportunity for the nations attending to make further commitments as well as announce accomplishments. A significant theme at this summit will be actions that nations are taking to strengthen cooperation against nuclear smuggling.
“The first line of defense, of course, is try to protect the material,” Samore said. “But in the event that fails, it’s important that there be a strong fallback in terms of cooperation both among agencies within each government as well as across the board internationally, to deal with the risk of nuclear materials in the black market.”
The next Nuclear Security Summit will be held in 2014.