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Security Council Calls for Nuclear Disarmament

September 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Thursday promoting nuclear disarmament. Margaret Warner reports from New York.

JIM LEHRER: The U.N. Security Council held a rare summit today to work toward eliminating nuclear weapons. There were also new calls to confront Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.

Margaret Warner has our lead story report.

MARGARET WARNER: President Obama chaired today’s meeting of the 15-member Security Council, a first for an American president. And 14 of the 15 council members were represented by heads of government, a rare occurrence.

The sole item on the agenda: passage of a resolution affirming the goals of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and committing to work more aggressively to achieve them.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now, the draft resolution has been adopted unanimously…

MARGARET WARNER: The president laid out the stakes in stark terms.

BARACK OBAMA: Just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city — be it New York or Moscow, Tokyo or Beijing, London or Paris — could kill hundreds of thousands of people, and it would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life.

Once more, the United Nations has a pivotal role to play in preventing this crisis. The historic resolution we just adopted enshrines our shared commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

MARGARET WARNER: In turn, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also warned of the risk of nuclear terror. He pointed to the ongoing negotiations between Russia and the U.S., holders of the world’s largest nuclear stockpiles.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, president , Russia (through translator): We’ve repeatedly stated and reiterated our readiness to move forward to reduce the number of delivery vehicles of strategic defensive arms more than threefold. Our proposals have been tabled in the negotiations we’ve been holding with the U.S.

MARGARET WARNER: Chinese President Hu Jintao reaffirmed China’s policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, but he said the countries with the largest arsenals should take the lead.

The resolution adopted today did not mention Iran and North Korea by name. Even so, those two nations were central to the discussion.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Iran and North Korea have made a mockery of international efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons development.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, president, France (through translator): At this very moment, Iran, since 2005, has flouted five Security Council resolutions. I support the extended hand of the Americans, President Obama. We must bring these dialogue proposals.

But what has it brought the international community? Nothing at all. Just more enriched uranium, more centrifugal machines. And then we have North Korea, and here it’s even better. North Korea has been acting in defiance of all Security Council decisions since 1993. They pay no attention whatsoever to what the international community has to say.

MARGARET WARNER: Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the time is fast approaching when harsher sanctions should be imposed against Iran.

In response, Iran issued a statement that said it would take part in “serious and constructive” negotiations, but it said, “Futile and illegal demands of the past years that have proven to be of no avail should be abandoned.”

In an interview in today’s Washington Post, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his nation would allow its nuclear experts to meet with U.S. and other officials as a confidence-building measure. The U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany are due to meet Iranian negotiators for talks about Iran’s nuclear program on October 1st.

As for what the future holds, President Obama acknowledged the difficulties of ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

BARACK OBAMA: Words alone will not get the job done.

MARGARET WARNER: He and many of the leaders around the table left for the Group of 20 economic summit in Pittsburgh this afternoon.

JIM LEHRER: Judy Woodruff spoke with Margaret at the U.N. earlier this afternoon.

Common themes, big differences

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, hello. This was an historic meeting of the U.N. Security Council. What else can you tell us about the scene, about what took place?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, it was quite a scene, Judy. Before the world leaders actually arrived, it was like a gigantic networking scrum of diplomats and former diplomats, celebrities who have been involved in anti-nuclear weapons work, Ted Turner, Queen Noor, and most especially, four former cabinet secretaries and senators, Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry, Sam Nunn, and George Shultz, who famously, two-and-a-half years ago, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal called "Towards a Nuclear-Weapons-Free World," and they have actually met with President Obama on this subject.

But then, once President Obama came in, he made a quick tour of the room, shook a lot of hands. And then just, I would say, about a minute-and-a-half or two before he was scheduled to start, President Sarkozy finally made his grand entrance, got halfway through the room and had to sit down.

But once they started, it was very business-like. President Obama gave a quick opening statement. He called for a vote on the resolution. And it was done -- clearly pre-cooked -- in -- I think it was four or five minutes.

But then after that, as the leaders all had their five minutes each to talk, that's when you saw that, despite common themes, there are significant differences.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Elaborate on those differences for us. What do you mean?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, the most -- they have different views about how to even work toward a nuclear-free world and who should take what steps first. But the most significant and immediate one was, of course, over Iran, and you could see it in some of the clips that we ran in my taped piece there.

I mean, Britain and France are very eager -- apparently in private as much as they are in public -- to move toughly against Iran if it doesn't respond soon to the offer that's on the table. China and Russia are still reluctant.

And so, tellingly, though the Americans had hoped that in this resolution, which is very, very broad, it would reference Iran and North Korea, that in fact, in the end, it does not.

U.S. push for nuclear-free world

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, since they're not specifically mentioned -- Iran and North Korea -- what exactly, Margaret, is the U.S. trying to accomplish with this?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, it's a very broad goal. I mean, one, President Obama has said he'd ultimately like to get to a nuclear-free world, but in the meantime, they really want, as you and I talked about last night a little bit, they want to strengthen the international community's ability to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology, arms, material.

And several of the leaders, you heard them say today, we really are at a turning point. Suddenly, this nuclear club is about to balloon and mushroom out of control, perhaps even to non-state actors, as Gordon Brown said.

So it's a complicated resolution, and it's many parts. It is mostly setting up the framework for a number of arms negotiations and meetings that are coming up next year on all these topics. I'd say the most important one is that they seem to agree that both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, need to be strengthened. And they are going to re-open the so-called NPT next year.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So there may be more meat on the bones than it appears?

MARGARET WARNER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I mean, this was not a, you know, decision-taking or action-taking meeting. But it was getting all of -- to say the Security Council is at a common point about the threat that's out there and broadly what needs to change.

As you can see, there are really sort of three legs of the stool. The nuclear weapons states agree to start cutting their arsenals more aggressively. Everyone agrees that there should be no new nuclear state.

And, finally -- and this is what you heard a lot from the president of Uganda and other non-permanent members -- they said, you know, the developing world needs nuclear energy technology. And the -- the nuclear powers agree that something has to be done to share that technology, that civilian energy use, much more broadly with the rest of the world, with international safeguards.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret, looking back at this whole week, what would you say that the United States has achieved, has accomplished here?

MARGARET WARNER: I'd say in two areas. One was getting this resolution today. And the other was yesterday getting President Medvedev of Russia to say publicly that he would consider sanctions against Iran.

The U.S. came into this week wanting to come up with a united front, as it and Russia and China and Germany and France and Britain head into this crucial October 1 meeting with the Iranians. And so, apparently, President Medvedev came into the meeting. Somebody who was there said he came, you know, essentially ready to play. He was ready to talk about the whole Iran issue.

And he did express, as he has before to President Obama, that he sees a threat from both their weapons development and their missile development. And though Obama advisers insist there's no quid pro quo sought for President Obama's decision last week to change the whole missile defense system in Europe, President Medvedev did say -- and reporters hearing -- that that was certainly a rational decision.

And so -- and then apparently, at the end, interestingly, after they'd had this meeting, before they came to the press, Medvedev asked for a private one-on-one with President Obama, and literally everyone left the room for five minutes, and just they talked with the interpreters. I asked one person if he knew what was said, and he said, "Yes, but I won't tell you."

JUDY WOODRUFF: Margaret Warner, wrapping up the week for us at the United Nations. Thank you, Margaret.