Leaders and representatives of 47 nations gathered in Washington Monday for a nuclear summit as US President Barack Obama attempts to lock down loose nuclear materials. Obama is also hoping to get China on board to issue tighter sanctions on Iran.
REUTERS - U.S. President Barack Obama opened a 47-nation summit dedicated to keeping nuclear arms from terrorists on Monday and planned to seek momentum with China in his push for a new round of sanctions on Iran.
Obama began the unprecedented two-day gathering with a series of meetings with some of the world leaders gathered for the summit, one of the largest international groupings ever staged by the United States.
Obama will hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao that should go some way toward determining whether China is prepared to join the United States, Britain, France, Russia and Germany in a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and it does not intend to build a weapon.
Hu's agreement to attend was perceived as a positive sign in Washington after U.S.-Chinese relations were strained by Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama, China's Internet censorship, and U.S. pressure over China's currency.
Diplomats believe China might be willing to join the latest Iran sanctions push but it was still unclear how far Beijing would go to penalize a country with which it has significant economic ties.
Financial markets will be seeking further signs of China giving ground over its currency valuation. The United States agreed to delay its planned mid-April determination of whether China was considered a currency manipulator, sparing Hu from potential embarrassment.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who made a brief visit to Beijing last week to discuss U.S. concerns that the yuan is seriously undervalued and that this contributes to a trade imbalance, was to attend Obama's talks with Hu.
Iran dismisses summit
Iran dismissed the U.S. summit and said it would not be swayed by any decisions made there.
"World summits being organized these days are intended to humiliate human beings," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran.
Obama began a series of one-on-one meetings by seeing Jordan's King Abdullah, who like many Arab leaders is worried about the potential for Iran developing a nuclear weapon and triggering a Middle East arms race.
He was also meeting the leaders of Malaysia, Ukraine and Armenia inside Washington's downtown convention center, which was surrounded by a heavy security cordon of troops and police and high fences.
The summit is the culmination of a hectic period of nuclear diplomacy for Obama. Last week he signed a new treaty to cut U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and unilaterally announced the United States would limit its use of nuclear weapons, a plan that came under heavy fire from his conservative critics.
The summit -- the biggest U.S.-hosted assembly of world leaders in six decades -- will be a test of Obama's ability to rally global action on his nuclear agenda.
In a sign of progress on the issues, the foreign ministry in Moscow said Russia and the United States would sign a deal on Tuesday on reducing stocks of weapons grade plutonium.
Speaking on the eve of the conference, Obama said he expected it to yield "enormous progress" toward the goal of locking down loose nuclear materials worldwide.
"We know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon, a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using," Obama told reporters, calling it the biggest threat to national security.
A draft final communique shows leaders will pledge to work toward safeguarding all "vulnerable nuclear material" within four years and take steps to crack down on nuclear smuggling.
Not on agenda but on summiteers' minds
Iran and North Korea are not on the guest list or the summit agenda. But their nuclear standoffs with the West were likely to weigh heavily in Obama's talks with Hu and other leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She will sit down with the U.S. president on Tuesday after the summit is over.
"I think time is pressing and a decision on potential sanctions will need to be made soon," Merkel, referring to Iran, said in Berlin before leaving for the United States.
The list of leaders in attendance ranged from heads of state of traditional nuclear powers like Russia and France to nuclear-armed foes like India and neighboring Pakistan.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani assured Obama in talks on Sunday his government has "appropriate safeguard" for its nuclear arsenal. Experts say Pakistan's stockpile of weapons-grade material poses a high risk because of internal security threats from the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Missing will be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who withdrew fearing Muslim leaders would use the summit as a forum to demand Israel give up its assumed nuclear arsenal.
Date created : 2010-04-12