Sunday, April 5, 2009

President Barack Obama calls for a nuclear free world in Prague speech

The country that dropped two atom bombs on Japan in 1945 has a "moral responsibility" to work towards securing "a world without nuclear weapons", President Barack Obama has said in a speech in the Czech Republic.

By Toby Harnden in Prague (Telegraph UK)

Speaking in a city chosen for the symbolism of its peaceful toppling of communism through the Velvet Revolution of 1989, he denounced "fatalism" over nuclear proliferation and vowed to lead a global effort to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.

"So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment and desire to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."

Maintaining that he was "not naïve", Mr Obama buttressed his startlingly optimistic and ambitious aim - even employing his campaign of "Yes, we can" - with a strong condemnation of the North Korean rocket launch, hours before his speech, and tough words on Iran.

The United States would continue to develop a missile defence system until Iran abandoned its nuclear ambitions, he said. "As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven," he said.

"Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbours and our allies." He hailed the "courageous" Czech Republic and Poland for "agreeing to host a defense against these missiles."

But he also spoke of the potential for a rapprochement with Iran that would remove the need for a missile defence system.

"If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed."

Tehran, he said, had two choices. "We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take."

Mr Obama called for a reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in American national security strategy, negotiating a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia - to which Moscow agreed to in principle last week - and seeking a new treaty to end the production of fissile materials used in nuclear weapons.

He also announced that the US would hold host a global summit on nuclear security in next year and that he would work to ratify the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1999 but rejected by the US Senate.

Mr Obama who was woken at 4.30am in his hotel room in Prage by his press secretary Robert Gibbs to be told of the North Korean rocket launch over Japan, said that, said Pyongyang had to be called to account and urged a strong international response at an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting.

"This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons," he said. "Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, words must mean something.

"The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response."

Mr Obama's reference to the devastating atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing as many as 220,000, in August 1945 was part of his concerted effort to rebuild bridges with the world by promising, as he said in Strasbourg, "to listen to learn and to learn" and to acknowledge American failings.

Gary Samore, the White House's Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism, indicated that Mr Obama's call for ridding the world of nuclear weapons need not be taken too literally.

"In terms of a nuclear-free world, I think we all recognize this is not a near-term possibility." Rather, the call was an attempt to "seize the moral high ground" in order to increase pressure on countries like North Korea and Iran.

It's A New Day !