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End of Nuclear Security Summits Mulled
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Kelsey Davenport

The nuclear security summit process could end in 2014, a top adviser to President Barack Obama indicated last month.

In remarks at an Oct. 7 press briefing at the United Nations, Gary Samore noted that the first nuclear security summit, held in Washington in April 2010, endorsed the plan “to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years,” which Obama had announced a year earlier in a speech in Prague. “We do not intend to create a permanent institution with the nuclear security summit,” said Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) terrorism.

He said he expected 2014 to be the “end point” of the four-year period.
“[A]t that point, it makes most sense for the nuclear security challenge to be transmitted to the broader international community and to the institutions that encompass all of the countries in the world,” he said, citing the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Samore added that although 2014 seemed the “logical” end point, it would be up to the leaders to decide if that was the “appropriate moment” to end the summit process.

Samore is the U.S. sherpa, or lead government negotiator, for next year’s summit, which is to be held March 26-27 in Seoul. In an Oct. 25 e-mail to Arms Control Today, he said that “it made sense to have at least one more summit” after the one in 2012 and, in particular, to have one in 2014 to mark the end of the four-year period.

Speaking at the Oct. 7 press conference, Hahn Choong-hee, the Korean sous-sherpa, or deputy government negotiator, also said the nuclear security process will be transferred to “existing international organizations and initiatives,” but said it was “too early and too premature to say that we are going to finish at a particular time.” He called for a third summit in 2014 to check the progress on the four-year goal of securing all nuclear materials.

Samore said at the briefing that he hoped the summits “will have provided a stimulus for countries to take actions to deal with the global challenge of nuclear security.” Although only 47 countries are participating in the nuclear security summit process, Samore said limiting the number of participants was a practical matter and that “we made sure to make clear that nuclear security is a global challenge that involves all countries.”

Samore expressed confidence in the ability of the UN and the IAEA to continue nuclear security work after the summit process ends, citing their involvement in the Washington and Seoul summits.

The UN, the IAEA, and the European Union participated in the 2010 summit and have attended the preparatory meetings for the 2012 summit. Interpol was added to the list of international organizations invited to 2012 summit. At the Oct. 7 briefing, UN High Representative for Disarmament Sergio de Queiroz Duarte said that strengthening nuclear security remained high on the UN’s international security agenda.

At the Washington summit, 29 countries made more than 50 specific commitments to strengthen nuclear security and help meet the four-year goal. The commitments were based on the consensus communiqué and work plan of the summit, which laid out principles of nuclear security and provided details on how those principles would be implemented.

Laura Holgate, senior director for WMD terrorism and threat reduction at the U.S. National Security Council, said at the press briefing that the countries have made “significant progress” toward fulfilling the principles of the work plan. As the 2012 summit draws closer, Holgate said she expected to see further progress toward meeting the commitments made in Washington and “new pledges of action” to prevent nuclear terrorism and illicit trafficking.

Although the commitments were voluntary and nonbinding, Obama said in an April 14, 2010, statement that the participating countries agreed at the Washington summit that it is a “fundamental responsibility” to secure nuclear materials and facilities effectively.

The UN press briefing took place two days after the conclusion of a preparatory meeting for the 2012 Seoul summit. Sherpas from the 47 countries met in Helsinki Oct. 4-5 to continue working on the Seoul Communiqué, a document drafted by South Korea that will guide the 2012 summit.

In his statement at the briefing, South Korean Ambassador to the UN Kim Sook provided some details on the communiqué, which is in the drafting stage. He said the sherpas at the Helsinki meeting adopted five guiding principles for the communiqué.

One principle cited by Kim is that nuclear security will remain the focus of the Seoul summit. Hahn said that although in the synergy between nuclear safety and security would be discussed in Seoul, safety would remain a secondary issue. The damage to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from an earthquake and tsunami last March sparked a debate among leaders over how much emphasis the summit should place on nuclear safety.

The other four principles that Kim listed were that the summit will build on the work of the 2010 summit, national commitments will remain voluntary, no new regime for nuclear security will be created, and the communiqué will “respect” Obama’s vision for securing all nuclear materials in four years.

Hahn said the agenda from the 2010 summit would be broadened to include security of sensitive information and radioactive sources. Although North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons will not be an explicit agenda item, the summit will provide an opportunity to emphasize the need for peace and security on the Korean peninsula, Hahn said.

The sherpas are scheduled to meet again in New Delhi next February to continue discussing the contents of the communiqué and the summit agenda.

Posted: November 2, 2011