Heed nuke treaty, Zuma tells West
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Seoul: A few hours after President Barack Obama offered to cut US nuclear weapons stockpiles and urged Russia to do the same, President Jacob Zuma reminded all countries with nuclear weapons that they had a duty to eliminate these.
Speaking in the South Korean capital during a summit on nuclear safety, Zuma said Obama’s announcement was not enough.
“In our desire to create a forum to raise awareness on nuclear security, we cannot ignore the reality that only the verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons will ultimately prevent the use of such weapons,” Zuma said.
Earlier on Monday, Obama said he intended to slash more stockpiles of US nuclear warheads and would press Russia to do the same when he met its president-elect, Vladimir Putin, in May.
Speaking at a side event of the Nuclear Safety Summit, Obama did not say how many more nuclear weapons the US would propose cutting. But he said the cuts would involve tactical nuclear weapons, as well as strategic and reserve warheads.
In his response Zuma referred to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibited all countries without nuclear weapons from developing them. In exchange for that pledge, countries with nuclear weapons were to help developing countries to build nuclear power plants. The treaty also binds countries with nuclear weapons to eliminate them. SA voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons in 1991.
Countries without nuclear weapons have long complained that nuclear powers are guilty of double standards because they insist that countries without nuclear arms should not develop them, yet they do little to uphold their side of the treaty by eliminating their nuclear stockpiles.
Obama is portraying his offer to reduce the US’s stockpiles as the progressive fulfilment of America’s commitment to the treaty.
Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, limiting Russian and American nuclear weapons to 1 500 apiece, two years ago.
But some analysts say the reduced stockpiles represent outdated weapons and that fewer advanced weapons are needed to maintain the same military capability.That calls into question whether the nuclear states are really committed to fulfiling the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Obama said the US had an ethical duty to reduce its nukes.
“I believe the United States has a unique responsibility to act – indeed, we have a moral obligation,” he said in a speech at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies here.
“I say this as president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons.
“I say it as a commander-in-chief who knows that our nuclear codes are never far from my side. Most of all, I say it as a father who wants my two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can’t be instantly wiped out.”
Zuma pointed out that SA has taken “special precautions to stop enriching uranium and separating plutonium” – another way to produce fuel for a nuclear bomb.
“Our international legally binding obligations on nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation allow for the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes only, irrespective of the enrichment level,” he said.
The Nuclear Safety Summit is the second meeting of world leaders on preventing nuclear weapons and material from falling into the hands of terrorists. The first was held in Washington in 2010.
About 40 heads of state and the government are attending the summit here.
Obama said progress had been made in the past two years towards securing nuclear weapons so they did not fall into the hands of terrorists.
“But we’re under no illusions,” he added.
“We know that nuclear material – enough for many weapons – is still being stored without adequate protection.”
Zuma said the world must “remain vigilant over the continued risks posed by nuclear terrorism, the illicit nuclear network and criminal acts, and the use of nuclear or other radioactive material for malicious acts”.
He believed that “a co-operative approach in the relevant multilateral organisations” would deal effectively with these risks.
Although terrorism is supposed to be the focus, volatile nuclear issues involving North Korea, whose border is just 40km from the venue of the summit, and Iran have come to dominate the discussions.
In North Korea, the government has stirred up controversy yet again and rattled nerves in the region by announcing it is to use a ballistic missile to launch a satellite into space next month.
Yesterday Obama called on the North to have the “courage” to seek peace.