Al-Qai'da trying to get hold of nuclear bomb: Obama
Al-Qa'ida is trying to secure material for nuclear weapons and would have "no compunction in using them", President Barack Obama said yesterday as he welcomed the largest gathering of world leaders in Washington since the Second World War.
Mr Obama was attempting to corral the leaders of more than 40 nations into adopting a joint strategy to lock down all loose nuclear materials within four years. He has set himself the mission of convincing fellow leaders that they face the same threat and to establish a plan to secure every ounce of the world's nuclear weapons-grade fuel.
"The single-biggest threat to US security, short-term, medium-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organisation obtaining a nuclear weapon," Mr Obama said.
"If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg, the ramifications -- economically, politically and from a security perspective -- would be devastating. We know that organisations like al-Qa'ida are in the process of trying to secure nuclear weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction, and would have no compunction in using them."
Discussions at the two-day summit are focusing on stocks of separated plutonium and enriched uranium.
They are part of an initiative by Mr Obama to eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons by controlling "loose nukes", reducing the US military's strategic dependence on nuclear arms and halting proliferation. It was this vision that earned him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
Washington and Moscow have made substantial progress since the collapse of the Soviet Union to secure the greatest-single supply of highly-enriched uranium, but sufficient supplies remain scattered around the world to make thousands of bombs.
Mr Obama insisted that the outcome of the Washington meeting would be meaningful. Before the conference opened, the White House said that Ukraine will get rid of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, enough to build several nuclear weapons, by 2012.
"Our expectation is not that there's just some vague, gauzy statement about us not wanting to see loose nuclear materials," said Mr Obama.
"We anticipate a communique that spells out very clearly, here's how we're going to achieve locking down all the nuclear materials over the next four years, with very specific steps."
For many Western officials and experts, nuclear-armed Pakistan remains the main concern because of its instability and the proximity of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida bases in the country's tribal areas to nuclear locations. No more than 55lb of the radioactive element -- the size of a grapefruit -- would be needed to make an explosive that could kill tens of thousands and cause chaos and disruption to trade for years.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, last night said her government was ready to provide new financing to strengthen the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "We are ready to pledge additional finances to make this happen," she said.
Like some other Europeans, Ms Merkel is anxious to emphasise the particular danger presented by "dirty bombs" rather than actual nuclear ones, which, if detonated, would shower large areas with radioactive materials.
These sorts of weapons "must not under any circumstances" fall into the hands of terror groups, she said.