President Obama at Opening Plenary of Nuclear Security Summit

April 13, 2010 | 8:07 | Public Domain

The President lays out the urgency of the threat of nuclear terrorism and the vision for eliminating it in remarks before the first major Plenary Session at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Washington Convention Center.

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Remarks by the President at the Opening Plenary Session of the Nuclear Security Summit

Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

9:45 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  I’d like to get started.  Let me begin by thanking all of you for your participation last night.  I thought it was a very important discussion.

Before I begin, I want to take this moment once again to acknowledge the terrible tragedy that struck the Polish people this weekend.  We are joined today by a distinguished delegation from Poland, led by Ambassador Kupiecki.  Mr. Ambassador, all of us were shocked and deeply saddened by the devastating loss of President Kaczynski, the First Lady, and so many distinguished civilian and military leaders from your country.  This was a loss, not just for Poland, but for the world.

As a close friend and ally, the United States stands with Poland and Poles everywhere in these very difficult days.  As an international community, I know that we will all rally around the Polish people, who have shown extraordinary strength and resilience throughout their history.  So our hearts go out to your people.  Our thoughts and prayers are with them.  We join them in this time of mourning.  And so, if everybody is agreeable, I would like to ask for a moment of silence to show that solidarity and to honor those who were lost.

(Pause for moment of silence.)

Thank you.  It is my privilege to welcome you to Washington and to formally convene this historic summit.  We represent 47 nations from every region of the world, and I thank each of you for being here.  This is an unprecedented gathering to address an unprecedented threat.

Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history -- the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up.

Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned into a nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations.  Just the smallest amount of plutonium -- about the size of an apple -- could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  Terrorist networks such as al Qaeda have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon, and if they ever succeeded, they would surely use it.  Were they to do so, it would be a catastrophe for the world -- causing extraordinary loss of life, and striking a major blow to global peace and stability.

In short, it is increasingly clear that the danger of nuclear terrorism is one of the greatest threats to global security -- to our collective security.

And that’s why, one year ago today in -- one year ago in Prague, I called for a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years.  This is one part of a broader, comprehensive agenda that the United States is pursuing -- including reducing our nuclear arsenal and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons -- an agenda that will bring us closer to our ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Over the past year, we’ve made progress.  At the United Nations Security Council last fall, we unanimously passed Resolution 1887 endorsing this comprehensive agenda, including the goal of securing all nuclear materials.  Last night, in closed session, I believe we made further progress, pursuing a shared understanding of the grave threat to our people.

And today, we have the opportunity to take the next steps.

We have the opportunity, as individual nations, to take specific and concrete actions to secure the nuclear materials in our countries and to prevent illicit trafficking and smuggling.  That will be our focus this morning.

We have the opportunity to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, with the resources and authorities it needs to meet its responsibilities.  That will be our focus at our working lunch.

We have the opportunity, as an international community, to deepen our cooperation and to strengthen the institutions and partnerships that help prevent nuclear materials from ever falling into the hands of terrorists.  And that will be our focus this afternoon.

And we have the opportunity, as partners, to ensure that our progress is not a fleeting moment, but part of a serious and sustained effort.  And that’s why I am so pleased to announce that President Lee has agreed to host the next Nuclear Security Summit in the Republic of Korea in two years.  This reflects South Korea’s leadership, regionally and globally, and I thank President Lee and the South Korean people for their willingness to accept this responsibility.

I’d ask President Lee just to say a few words.

PRESIDENT LEE:  Thank you for all colleagues, for supporting Korea to host next summit in 2012.

I assure you I will do best to make this summit a success.  So I hope to see all of you in Korea.  Thank you.  (Appause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

So today is an opportunity -- not simply to talk, but to act.  Not simply to make pledges, but to make real progress on the security of our people.  All this, in turn, requires something else, which is something more fundamental.  It will require a new mindset -- that we summon the will, as nations and as partners, to do what this moment in history demands.

I believe strongly that the problems of the 21st century cannot be solved by any one nation acting in isolation.  They must be solved by all of us coming together.

At the dawn of the nuclear age that he helped to unleash, Albert Einstein said:  “Now everything has changed…”  And he warned: “We are drifting towards a catastrophe beyond comparison.  We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

That truth endures today.  For the sake of our common security, for the sake of our survival, we cannot drift.  We need a new manner of thinking -- and action.  That is the challenge before us.  And I thank all of you for being here to confront that challenge together, in partnership.

And with that, I’m going to ask that we take a few moments to allow the press to exit before our first session.

9:53 A.M. EDT

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