Casey Remarks on Progress at Nuclear Security Summit

WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, today spoke on the Senate floor on progress made at the Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington earlier this week.  

“The threat posed by loose nuclear material is real,” said Senator Casey.  “I believe it was important for the president to elevate this threat in the minds of international leaders, particularly among the members of the so-called nonaligned movement. The administration was also able to attract concrete support for several initiatives. I was also encouraged that the president was able to use the summit to continue building support for strong sanctions on Iran.”

Senator Casey continued: “In 1961, President Kennedy said that, ‘Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.’  President Obama noted that we are paradoxically more vulnerable today to a nuclear attack than we were during the Cold War.  Today’s sword of Damocles still hangs by the slenderest of threads but we have the ability to prevent this threat by minimizing the access that such groups would have to nuclear material.”


Senator Casey’s full remarks are below:  


U.S. Senator Bob Casey
April 15, 2010


I rise today to talk about the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and the historic progress made by the United States at the Nuclear Security Summit this week, and some observations on Iran’s nuclear program.

The threat posed by loose nuclear material is real.  We know that more than 2,000 tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium exist in dozens of countries with a variety of peaceful as well as military uses. There have been 18 documented cases of theft or loss of highly enriched uranium or plutonium.  18 documented cases.  

In September of 1961, President Kennedy addressed nuclear weapons in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.  He said, “Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness.”  

Today, the threat of a nuclear strike is not likely to come from a state, but terrorist actors.  These groups are harder to deter because they may not have a geographic base.  Moreover, they are not threatened by the concept of mutually assured destruction.  President Obama noted that we are paradoxically more vulnerable today to a nuclear attack than we were during the Cold War.  Today’s sword of Damocles still hangs by the slenderest of threads but we have the ability to prevent this threat by minimizing the access that such groups would have to nuclear material.  

So what did the United States accomplish at the Nuclear Security Summit?

First, I believe it was important for the president to elevate this threat in the minds of international leaders, particularly among the members of the so-called nonaligned movement.  Many leaders around the world do not see nuclear terrorism as an existential threat.  This summit was an important first step towards accurately defining the threat that nuclear terrorism holds for us all and building broad political support for higher security standards.

This political support is important because we can’t stop nuclear terrorism on our own.  Securing nuclear materials requires the active participation of a host of actors including governments, militaries, border guards, parliaments, intelligence services, local law enforcement, and citizens.  We need increased vigilance and an understanding that a nuclear strike anywhere in the world will have a profound impact on us all.    

The administration was also able to attract concrete support for several initiatives.  In fact, every country in attendance pledged to do more to tighten regulation of nuclear materials and several made concrete commitments to comply with international treaties on nuclear security.   Most notably, our allies decided to do the following:

•    Canada returned a large amount of spent highly enriched uranium fuel from their medical isotope production reactor to the United States and committed to funding highly enriched uranium removals from Mexico and Vietnam;

•    Chile removed all highly enriched uranium (18kgs) in March

•    Italy and the U.A.E signed Megaports agreements with the U.S. which will include installation of detection equipment at ports

•    Kazakhstan will convert a highly enriched uranium research reactor and eliminate its remaining highly enriched uranium

•    Mexico will convert a highly enriched uranium research reactor and eliminate their remaining highly enriched uranium by working through IAEA

•    Norway will contribute $3.3 million over the next four years to the IAEA nuclear security fund which are flexible funds for activities in developing countries

•    Russia signed the Plutonium Disposition protocol, decided to end plutonium production and will make contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Security Fund

•    Ukraine will remove all highly enriched uranium by the next Nuclear Security Summit in 2012 and half of it by year’s end

This conference was only the beginning of a renewed international focus on fulfilling commitments to UN resolution 1540.  In December, representatives from each participating country will reconvene to measure commitments made against concrete results.  I trust that this effort to focus the international community will lead to even more tangible progress looking towards the next nuclear security summit in Seoul in 2012.

Ultimately, real progress will be found in the consistent enforcement of rules already in place for monitoring and controlling the establishment and movement of nuclear material in these countries. This is not exciting work but gravely important – as countries safeguard and reduce their weapons-grade material, we will go a long ways towards building a more secure future.

I was also encouraged that the president was able to use the summit to continue building support for strong sanctions on Iran.  I believe that his face to face meeting with President Hu will pay dividends as the UN Security Council negotiates a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran.  Given China’s recent opposition to new sanctions, I was encouraged by President Hu’s apparent willingness to consider the resolution.  We are not there yet, but the administration has laid the diplomatic groundwork necessary for a strong sanctions package.  We need to move forward on this pressure track and we need to move quickly.  

At the end of March, I traveled to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna for an update on its work to track the Iranian nuclear program.  While I was impressed with the agency staff and leadership of Director General Yukiya Amano, I came away convinced that the international community needed to do more to confront Iran’s nuclear program.

My concerns have grown with reports that Iran may be planning two additional nuclear enrichment sites.  In an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered work to begin soon on the two new enrichment plants. The plants, he said, “will be built inside mountains,” presumably to protect them from attacks.  

If Iran’s nuclear program was peaceful in nature, they would have nothing to hide from international inspectors.  Iran has all but rejected the Geneva deal of Oct. 1, 2009, that would have seen Iran’s low enriched uranium (L.E.U.) shipped out the country and the eventual return of uranium enriched to 20 percent -- well below weapons grade -- for use in a Tehran medical research reactor.  Iran would have agreed to this very good deal offered repeatedly by the international community if it wanted a nuclear program for medical and other peaceful purposes.

If the United States is committed to demonstrating that international law is not an empty promise, obligations must be kept and treaties must be enforced. Iran must face penalties for violating its commitments to the UN and the IAEA.  France, the United Kingdom, the U.S., China, Russia and Germany have made serious attempts to engage with Iran through the P5+1 process.  These efforts have been repeatedly rebuffed and in some cases scorned by the regime in Tehran.  Iran’s leaders continue to pass up extraordinary opportunities to integrate their country with the rest of the world, a desire felt by so many of Iran’s citizens.

I supported these engagement efforts as a means towards changing the behavior of the regime. Unfortunately, it has not worked.  Noncompliance with the UN and IAEA must have consequences and the international community must move quickly to show Iran that we are serious.

During my trip, I also attended a conference on transatlantic relations in Brussels with American and European leaders.  I called on our European allies to support an aggressive multilateral sanctions package and was heartened to see that many participants heeded this call to action.  I appeared on a panel alongside Yossi Kuperwasser, Deputy Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, who also made an impassioned appeal to those assembled, not only on behalf of Israel but the broader international community.  Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons would spark an arms race in the region, which does not advance Iran’s or any other country’s security.  The clock is ticking, he said, and free people around the world have a shared interest in stopping Iran’s nuclear program.  I could not agree more with my friend from Israel when he made that statement.


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