Australia's Gillard to warn summit of nuclear terrorism threat

Obama and Gillard at Nuclear Security Summit

Obama and Gillard at Nuclear Security Summit

Last Updated: Tue, 27 Mar 2012 11:10:00 +1100

The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is expected to use a speech in South Korea today to urge world leaders to work together to make sure extremist groups are not able to produce a nuclear weapon.

Leaders from 53 nations are attending a nuclear security summit in Seoul and are expected to set out the next steps to make vulnerable nuclear material more secure.

Ms Gillard is expected to use her speech to talk up Australia's record of nuclear security, and urge leaders to work to stop nuclear weapons getting into the wrong hands.

She is also expected to discuss Australia's reputation in developing ways to use lower-enriched uranium for medical and research needs, and its plans to help South-East Asian countries improve their nuclear security standards.

The summit is not designed to deal with the question of nuclear proliferation by nation states, but North Korea's plan to use a long-range rocket to launch a satellite next month is dominating the agenda of sideline talks.

The nuclear-armed North insists the launch will only put a satellite into orbit, but its opponents say it will test missile technology that could deliver a warhead

Ms Gillard says the consequences if North Korea goes ahead with such a launch would be very grave.

"We would be talking about the further isolation of a regime which is already very isolated," she said.

North Korea has also dominated the time of US president Barack Obama, who has talked of little else at the summit.

He issued a warning to the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

"You can continue down the road you are on, but we know where that leads," he said.

"It leads to more of the same, more broken dreams, more isolation, ever more distance between the people of North Korea and the dignity and the opportunity that they deserve."

China, the North's sole major ally and its biggest trade partner and aid provider, is seen as one of the few nations that can influence the regime.

Ms Gillard says China has a responsibility to make sure the satellite launch does not go ahead.

"I believe countries around the world, all countries should be using their mechanisms and endeavours to put the message very strongly to North Korea that it needs to step back from this proposed launch of a so-called satellite using missile technology," she said.

Earlier, China told the United States it has "serious concerns" about its ally North Korea's planned rocket launch, a US official said.

Chinese president Hu Jintao spoke with US president Barack Obama on Monday as the 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit opened in South Korea.

Nuclear defiance from North Korea and Iran is expected to dominate the overall nuclear agenda at the summit, with numerous nations strongly criticising North Korea's rocket launch set for mid-April.

The nuclear-armed North insists it will only put a satellite into orbit, while its opponents say it will test missile technology that could deliver a warhead.

China, the North's sole major ally and its biggest trade partner and aid provider, is seen as one of the few nations that can influence the regime.

Senior White House aide Ben Rhodes said Mr Hu indicated to Mr Obama that he took the North Korean nuclear standoff very seriously and was registering his concern with Pyongyang.

"The two leaders agreed to coordinate closely in responding to this potential provocation and registering our serious concern to the North Koreans and, if necessary, consider what steps need to be taken following a potential satellite launch," Mr Rhodes said.

The nuclear security summit in Seoul has officially opened, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard amongst 52 world leaders in attendance.

Ahead of the conference, Ms Gillard told the audience of Korean business leaders and students that the friendship between both countries is growing.

But she says it is inevitable that North Korea's planned nuclear launch will dominate discussions.

Nuclear disarmament

Mr Obama has vowed to pursue further nuclear arms cuts with Russia and urged China to follow suit.

Acknowledging the United States has more warheads than necessary, Mr Obama held out the prospect of new reductions in the US arsenal as he sought to rally world leaders for additional concrete steps against the threat of nuclear terrorism.

"We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need," Mr Obama told students at South Korea's Hankuk University ahead of the Seoul summit.

Mr Obama set expectations high in a 2009 speech in Prague when he declared it was time to seek "a world without nuclear weapons". He acknowledged at the time it was a long-term goal, but his high-flown oratory helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Seoul, Mr Obama made clear that he was committed to that notion, saying "those who deride our vision, who say that ours is an impossible goal that will be forever out of reach", were wrong.

We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need.

Though Mr Obama was vague on exactly how such a vision would be achieved, he voiced confidence the United States and Russia, which reached a landmark arms-control treaty in 2010, "can continue to make progress and reduce our nuclear stockpiles".

"I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal," he said.

But another arms accord with Moscow will be a tough sell to US conservatives who say Mr Obama has not moved fast enough to modernise the US strategic arsenal, a pledge he made in return for Republican votes that helped ratify the START treaty.

The United States and Russia are the two biggest nuclear powers, possessing thousands of warheads between them, arsenals that arms-control advocates say are capable of destroying the world several times over.

Mr Obama said he wanted to take arms control talks with the Russians to a new level.

"Going forward, we'll continue to seek discussions with Russia on a step we have never taken before - reducing not only our strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve," he said.


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