A 47-nation nuclear security summit in Washington DC hosted by US President Barrack Obama and attended by President Jacob Zuma and 36 other leaders has agreed to secure fissile materials by 2014. The countries also undertook to ensure effective security of the nuclear material that they possessed.
The leaders pledged to prevent the illegal obtaining of information or technology required to use nuclear material for malicious purposes. All countries agreed to adhere to a list of best practices and recognise a need for cooperation to effectively prevent and respond to incidents of illicit nuclear trafficking. Leaders from China, Russia, France, Germany, Brazil and Japan were among participants at the summit, making it the largest gathering of world leaders in Washington in more than 60 years.
Zuma said he was confident that all countries would adhere to these undertakings and said all leaders present had shown much commitment in the fight against nuclear terrorism, the Presidency said in a statement. In its contribution at the summit, South Africa emphasised that the only way to combat nuclear terrorism would be the complete and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons.
Addressing the summit, Zuma said it was important that emphasis be placed on a multilateral approach in order to uphold the centrality of the United Nations. Zuma also said that it was important for states to pool their resources in fighting terrorism globally and that multilateral systems should be strengthened to deal with such efforts.
The SA leader further praised the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in efforts to strengthen nuclear security. Zuma said the summit should not seek to replace the work of institutions such as IAEA but rather support and complement their work. “We all know that the IAEA remains the internationally recognised competent authority responsible for verifying and assuring compliance with safeguards agreements to prevent the diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons. “Nothing should be done to undermine the authority of the IAEA and it should have adequate resources to fulfill its mandate,” he said.
SA gave up its pursuit of nuclear weapons in 1993 making it the first and only country to start abandoning a weapons programme voluntarily. South Africa has been hailed by Obama for its leadership in this regard. “South Africa has special standing in being a moral leader on this issue, and I wanted to publicly compliment President Zuma, (and) his administration, for the leadership they have shown and looking forward for the possibility of them helping to guide other countries down a similar direction of non proliferation,” said Obama praising SA.
Observers say SA can use this commendation to its advantage during the talks by urging the leaders to take example to dismantle their nuclear programmes – a view that was also shared by Zuma. In an interview with the SABC ahead of the meeting, Zuma said he would use the summit to push international cooperation to ensure safety of nuclear materials and facilities, as well as the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Zuma questioned why nations should possess nuclear arms in the first place.
The next Nuclear Security Summit will be held in Seoul in 2012.