US prez candidate Obama calls on Russia and the world to abandon nukes

Publish date: October 3, 2007

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK – Indicating that the United States nuclear non-proliferation strategies with Russia should continue to of importance to the next US president– certainly important than they are to incumbent President George Bush – democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama proposed “a world in which there are no nuclear weapons.”

Speaking Tuesday to a group of students at DePaul University students in Chicago, Obama said: "We’ll work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert. We’ll start by seeking a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons. And we’ll set a goal to expand the US-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global."

Obama has been the most vocally anti-nuclear candidate of the pack of presidential hopefuls, stressing at every opportunity that he would eschew the possibility of nuclear resolutions to world conflicts that even his less hawkish pretenders to the democratic presidential nomination have thus far refused to take of the table – most notably New York Senator Hillary Clinton

Obama has also worked closely with Senator Richard Lugar in advancing the Cooperative Threat Reduction programme with Russia, traveling with Lugar to Russia on several verification visits.  

Nuke threat report spurring dialogue
Obama is struggling to make up ground on Clinton, his closest opponent. But the move is also the first high-level acknowledgement of a report published last week by the Nuclear Threat Initiative indicating that Russia remains – despite over a decade of US non-proliferation and security efforts – the single most attractive country from which would-be nuclear terrorists could pilfer nuclear materials.

"Here’s what I’ll say as president: America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons," Obama said.

He further accused Clinton of being mired in Cold War thinking about nuclear weapons. Clinton had taken Obama to task for refusing outright to use nuclear weapons to solve tensions with a potentially nuclear Iran.

Obama did note, however, that the United States would not pursue a unilateral disarmament of nuclear weapons under his presidency.

New weapons production in the US?

Obama’s comment come at a time when the American government has loudly trumpeted that it will be converting more surplus plutonium than committed to in the 2000 Plutonium Disposition Agreement with Russia.

In that agreement, the United States and Russia agreed to take 34 tons of plutonium deemed surplus to nuclear defence needs out of circulation by either storing it in highly radioactive pucks stored in highly radioactive glass – a process called vitrification – or by converting it to mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel. This is the route the United States will be taking, and a MOX fabrication facility is undergoing preliminary approval review at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site.

But Russia is hardly in a position to live up to its end of the bargain: efforts to build a MOX fabrication plant there have stalled since the United States said it was only able to commit $500m toward the projected $2 billion project Russia also refuses to consider vitrification, and is more inclined, as indicated by recent Kremlin behavior, to keep its surplus warheads right in the missiles where they currently are.

The Bush Administration’s plans to convert more surplus weapons plutonium is also, according to sources in Washington, not as altruistic as it seems on the surface.

The plan to convert more plutonium, added to the projected renaissance of nuclear plant construction in the United States, is, says sources, a way of clearing the path for a new generation of warhead – which is currently under committee review in US Congress.