35 nations sign up to tougher nuclear security standards

US President Barack Obama (front centre-left) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (centre-right) pose for a family picture with other world leaders, ministers and heads of international organisations on the second day of the two-day Nuclear Security
US President Barack Obama (front centre-left) and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (centre-right) pose for a family picture with other world leaders, ministers and heads of international organisations on the second day of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague on March 25, 2014.Thirty-five countries on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, committed to bolstering nuclear security, backing a global drive spearheaded by US President Barack Obama to prevent dangerous materials falling into the hands of terrorists. -- PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Thirty-five countries on Tuesday committed to bolstering nuclear security, backing a global drive spearheaded by US President Barack Obama to prevent dangerous materials falling into the hands of terrorists.

In a joint statement issued on the sidelines of the third biennial Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), the countries pledged to work closer together and submit to "peer reviews periodically" of their sensitive nuclear security regimes.

The nations - including Israel, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Turkey but not Russia - vowed to "realise or exceed" the standards set out in a series of guidelines laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to safeguard nuclear materials.

These are the "closest things we have to international standards for nuclear security", US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters as he presented the pledge.

Mr Obama has made improving nuclear safety one of the figurehead foreign policies of his presidency and said in 2009 that nuclear terrorism was "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security".

Frans Timmermans, foreign minister of the Netherlands, which is hosting the summit of more than 50 countries, acknowledged that nuclear security had to remain a "national responsibility" but said closer international cooperation could be "a direct contribution in preventing nuclear material becoming a security risk".

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, opening the two-day talks on Monday, said there were "almost 2,000 tonnes of weapons-usable material in circulation worldwide" and stressed that "security has to be our constant concern".

Analysts hailed the joint pledge but voiced concern that not all countries had signed up - notably Russia, with its outstanding stockpile of Soviet-era weapons.

Miles Pomper, an expert at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the statement was "the most important accomplishment of the summit". But he added: "We need to get the rest of the summit members to sign up to it, especially Russia, and we need to find a way to make this into permanent international law."

According to a draft final statement obtained by AFP, leaders will push to reduce stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make an atomic bomb, and convert it to safer lower enriched uranium.

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