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Hope for an N-safe world

Dozens of world leaders gather in Washington next week for an unprecedented meeting on nuclear security, with US President Barack Obama hoping they can agree on how to keep atomic bombs out of terrorists’ hands.

world Updated: Apr 09, 2010 00:24 IST

Dozens of world leaders gather in Washington next week for an unprecedented meeting on nuclear security, with US President Barack Obama hoping they can agree on how to keep atomic bombs out of terrorists’ hands.

Although the gathering of 47 countries will not focus on individual nations, the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea — and possible new UN sanctions against Tehran — are expected to come up in Obama’s meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders, as well as in the speeches of Israeli and other participants.

Hu’s decision to attend the summit, Western diplomats said, was a major victory for Obama, since it indicates that Beijing does not want bilateral tensions over Taiwan and other issues to cripple Sino-US relations and cooperation on other key security and foreign policy topics.

A draft communique circulated to countries attending the summit includes a US proposal to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years.” The draft text will likely be revised before it is adopted at the end of the April 12-13 meeting.

Analysts and Western diplomats say the significance of the summit meeting — one of the biggest of its kind in Washington since World War Two — goes far beyond its official agenda.

“If leaders at the summit get it right, they could render nuclear power safer to use in the fight against climate change, strengthen the non-proliferation regime, and build further international confidence in ... nuclear disarmament,” Ian Kearns of British American Security Information Council said in a report. Kearns is also an adviser to Britain’s parliamentary committee on national security.

In addition to China’s Hu, attendees include Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Also represented will be India and Pakistan, which never signed the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but have atomic arsenals, and Israel, another NPT holdout that is presumed to have atomic weapons but has never confirmed it.

Iran, NKorea left out
The inclusion of Pakistan, diplomats say, is important since it is one of the countries that has pledged to improve its internal safeguards. Disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was the kingpin of an illicit atomic network that provided atomic technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Two nations excluded from the meeting are Iran, which the United States and its Western allies accuse of pursuing nuclear weapons, and North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and has twice detonated nuclear devices despite its promise to abandon its atomic programs. Both are under UN sanctions.