Even as President Barack Obama met on Sunday with a succession of global leaders to discuss better control of nuclear materials, his administration highlighted a seemingly dissimilar message: The US nuclear arsenal remains as strong as ever.
While Obama entertained foreign leaders at Blair House — shaking hands, bowing politely and posing for pictures — Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave interviews meant to reassert the nation’s military strength.
They indicated that the US would spend $5 billion this year to modernise its existing nuclear weapons, which they said could be used if the country’s security is in danger or in response to the threat of a biological attack.
“We’ll be, you know, stronger than anybody in the world, as we always have been, with more nuclear weapons than are needed many times over,” Clinton said on ABC’s This Week.
It was a somewhat surprising launch into the historic two-day nuclear summit.
Forty-six world leaders or their representatives are to meet to discuss the threat posed by the world’s unsecured stocks of nuclear materials. The event will test Obama’s diplomacy and his ability to strike a delicate balance. Progress in securing nuclear materials will enable him to gain international momentum toward the reduction in nuclear weapons he seeks, but at the same time he must reassure defence hawks that US security will not be compromised.
On Sunday, that two-pronged strategy meant that Obama spent four hours meetings at Blair House, talking with heads of state from India, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Pakistan.
Obama tried to reinforce his resolve during each of his meetings at Blair House, which lasted for about an hour. He touched on such topics as food security with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and economic policy with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, but the conversations circled back to nuclear terrorism. Obama shared his fears and sought ideas from his visiting counterparts, aides said.
Earlier in the day, Clinton had served in a different role, appearing with Gates on three major morning news shows to talk about US nuclear strategy. The two defended Obama against Republican attacks that the US nuclear approach is too soft — a criticism that has increased since the president signed a treaty with Russia last week to reduce their deployed long-range warheads.
Gates said the US is “stronger, not weaker,” in large part because of an increased focus on missile defence that includes more than $1 billion to be spent on the development of ground-based interceptors in Alaska.
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