Swiss President Doris Leuthard has given a positive review of the nuclear security conference in Washington, telling journalists that it had been a promising event.
Before flying home she said her initial scepticism based on early and vague draft statements had disappeared after precise and analytical talks.
World leaders endorsed President Barack Obama’s call for more security in the storage of nuclear material, tougher punishment for nuclear smugglers and less use of highly enriched uranium in the campaign against nuclear terrorism.
Leuthard said that more than 40 heads of state and government agreed that in view of rising energy demand and the many nuclear power plants worldwide, there was a growing risk that nuclear material could fall into the wrong hands.
It was therefore important that nuclear material used in power plants, research laboratories and hospitals was so secure that this could not happen.
“The summit was a first step. There is a long way to go,” Leuthard said. Now further concrete and binding steps had to follow.
“That is a key element. We cannot just come out with declarations but must take action if we want to strengthen security.”
In that respect, Leuthard made reference to a proposal put forward by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who suggested the setting up of a tribunal to punish states that supplied nuclear material and technology to groups like al-Qaida. The Netherlands and Germany came out with similar plans.
At the same time, Leuthard pointed out that the military’s nuclear capability posed a much bigger threat. As a result the risk that a nuclear weapon could be used for terrorist purposes had to be reduced.
This view was shared by other countries, including Norway, Sweden and Australia.
Leuthard described the signing of the latest Start accord between the United States and Russia as a good sign of progress on disarmament, which was not an issue at the summit.
Another important step in the fight against nuclear risks would be the review conference of the non-proliferation treaty due to take place next month at the United Nations in New York.
“Switzerland… doing well”
Leuthard also referred to the already existing international agreements that had not been ratified by many countries. “Switzerland is doing well in that respect. We have ratified all the relevant nuclear accords,” she said.
Other countries were lagging behind, including the US, as Obama admitted. Washington has not ratified the UN convention on the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism. According to US administration circles, the Senate is expected to discuss this issue soon.
Obama, who described the summit as a success, said participants were unanimous that nuclear terrorism was one of the biggest dangers to world security.
“Because of the steps we have taken… the American people will be safer and the world will be more secure,” he commented at the end.
Agreements were reached in Washington to secure all nuclear material within four years. The International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to play a decisive role in organising checks of individual states and training.
Rita Emch in Washington, swissinfo.ch (Adapted from German by Robert Brookes)
First concrete steps
Experts say that there is currently 1,600 tons of highly enriched uranium worldwide that could be used to produce weapons, as well as 600 tons of plutonium.
On the sidelines of the conference in Washington, the American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, signed an agreement to dispose of 34 tons of plutonium from 2018.
Ukraine, Mexico and Canada declared their intention to give up highly enriched uranium as a step toward making it harder for terrorist groups or criminal gangs to steal or acquire a key ingredient in the making of atomic weapons.
President Leuthard described as “friendly” her short meeting on Monday with Obama at the summit.
Leuthard referred to the fundamental good relations and cooperation that existed the US.
She said Switzerland was invited by Obama because of its good reputation in such negotiations and its credibility.
Leuthard noted another possible reason was that Switzerland represented US interests in Iran.
She held short bilateral talks with Germany, France and Italy, as well as meeting Russian President Dimitri Medvedev, the new president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and Mikhail Saakashvili, president of Georgia.
Asked how the international community should move forward on Iran’s nuclear programme (not on the summit agenda), Leuthard said Switzerland wanted to use every possible diplomatic means to avoid sanctions and an escalation of the conflict.