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Summit Will Usher in New Nuclear Security Pledges, South Korea Predicts

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Monday said the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul is likely to see a number of governments make new pledges on concrete actions to reduce the presence of weapon-usable sensitive materials in their countries, the Yonhap News Agency reported (see GSN, March 16).

"Currently, radioactive materials that can be utilized to make as many as some 130,000 nuclear weapons are scattered around the globe. The objective of the Nuclear Security Summit is to prevent such nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorist groups," Lee said in a regularly scheduled radio broadcast. "Moreover, it is aiming at ultimately making a world without nuclear weapons by reducing the amount of nuclear materials around the world to a minimum level and tightening controls of them. During the summit, many participating countries are expected to present concrete pledges on this issue."

The March 26-27 event in the South Korean capital is a follow-on to the first summit convened nearly two years ago by U.S. President Obama in Washington. This year's meeting is anticipated to be attended by leaders and top officials from at least 53 countries, up from the 47 who took part in the Washington forum. The European Union, United Nations, Interpol, and the International Atomic Energy Agency are also slated to participate.

"Whereas the Washington Nuclear Security Summit held in 2010 served mainly as a venue to proclaim a shared awareness of the need for nuclear security, the upcoming Seoul summit is expected to produce more advanced and concrete action plans through a Seoul communique," Lee said.

"The communique is expected to encompass ways to enhance government control over radioactive substances and to strengthen cooperation among nations to prevent illegal trafficking of nuclear materials," he continued.

A minimum of 10 countries are anticipated to pledge at the summit to rid their territories of all highly enriched uranium and plutonium, according to previous reporting (Yonhap News Agency I, March 19).

Meanwhile, Ukraine is close to finishing the transfer of weapon-grade uranium to Russia in accordance with a nuclear security deal reached with the United States, Yonhap reported (see GSN, Sept. 27, 2011). Kiev offered the commitment to give up all of its HEU material -- close to 200 pounds -- at the 2010 summit.

"The project is nearing a stage of completion," President Viktor Yanukovich said, who is scheduled to participate in the Seoul gathering.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine for a brief period possessed the planet's No. 3 nuclear arsenal. Kiev repatriated its nuclear weapons back to Russia in the 1990s after securing security promises from Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Washington also provided financial aid to the former Soviet state, Yonhap reported.

North Korea has also made securing a treaty with the United States to formally end the Korean War a condition for any final denuclearization agreement, though many analysts are skeptical Pyongyang will ever give up its nuclear weapons program (see related GSN story today).

Yanukovich was hesitant to say that North Korea could follow his nation's lead in relinquishing its nuclear deterrent. "The situation currently facing North Korea is completely different from the situation Ukraine faced in the past."

He said he anticipates North Korea's nuclear weapons drive will be examined at the Seoul gathering (Yonhap News Agency II/Korea Times, March 19).

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