Prague : US President Barack Obama laid out an ambitious plan to rid the world of atomic weapons in Prague Sunday, evoking his successful election campaign slogan of “Yes, We Can” to call for world action to face up to the nuclear threat.
With his message given a new sense of urgency after communist North Korea launched a rocket only hours before, Obama warned in his speech to thousands of people in Prague’s historic Hradcanske Square that the threat of a nuclear attack had increased.
“The threat of global nuclear war has gone down but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up,” said Obama, saying the testing of nuclear weapons had risen and the technology of building a bomb had spread, as a result increasing the risk of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.
“The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War,” said Obama. “The world must stand together to stop the spread of these weapons.”
He admitted that some may find his proposal naive but he went on to acknowledge that the scale of the changes meant that his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons might not be achieved in his lifetime.
Following last week’s agreement with Russia for new talks on nuclear arms, Obama proposed a series of steps to eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals.
This included, he said, halting the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states and “a lock down” on the material used in manufacturing atomic weapons, to be completed in four year’s time.
As part of his plan, Obama wants to see the creation of an international fuel bank that would allow countries to access “peaceful power without increasing risks of proliferation”.
He also said the future of the US’s planned controversial missile defence system in Central Europe depended on Iran, marking out the difference between his administration and the Bush White House.
He said his administration would lead a dialogue with Iran but vowed not to be soft if the effort fails. “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward,” Obama said, eliciting a cheer from the crowd.
If Iran committed itself to a peaceful nuclear programme, then the missile defence system which is planned to be located in Central Europe and has resulted in strains in US-Russia relations, would be abandoned, Obama said.
“If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security and a driving force for missile defence construction in Europe will be removed,” he said.
The US President went on to roundly condemn North Korea, saying Pyongyang “broke the rules by testing a rocket that could be used for long range missiles”.
“Rules must be binding, violations must be punished,” he told the officially estimated 20,000 people who had gathered to hear his speech in front of the Baroque gates of the Prague Castle.
Pyongyang had said it was putting a communications satellite into orbit, but Japan, South Korea and Washington believe the launch was a screen to test a ballistic missile. Later Sunday, reports in both Seoul and Washington said the satellite failed to reach orbit.
The US president’s keynote speech on nuclear non-proliferation in Prague was a highlight of his five-nation trip, which marks his first major foray onto the world stage since becoming president in January.
Obama’s political celebrity status extended to Prague where thousands began arriving early hoping for the chance to hear the new US president.
The US leader also argued for a strengthening of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty through boosting the resources and authority for stronger international inspections around the world.
The president is also to meet European Union (EU) leaders Sunday in Prague as part of an EU-US summit before flying to Turkey later in the day.
The US-EU meeting is expected to focus on climate change and economic relations. The Czech Republic is hosting the summit as it holds EU’s sixth-month rotating presidency until June 30.
Obama and his wife Michelle arrived in Prague Saturday after attending a summit in France and Germany marking the 60th anniversary of the security organization NATO and a two-day meeting in London of the Group of 20 world’s big economic powers.
Prague’s 1989 Velvet Revolution had “helped to bring down a nuclear power without a shot being fired,” Obama said.