Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pakistan Uses Multi-Pronged Approach to Keep Nuclear Assets from Terrorist Threats

As the two-day nuclear summit ends Tuesday in Washington, foreign leaders are focusing on how to keep terrorists from acquiring nuclear materials.Since Pakistan detonated its first nuclear device in 1998, parts of the international community have voiced concern over whether the country can adequately protect its nuclear assets from the wide range of terrorist groups believed to reside within its borders.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani specifically addressed this issue in front of leaders from nearly 50 countries attending Washington's nuclear summit.

He said that as a nuclear weapon state, Pakistan attaches the highest importance to the security of nuclear materials and facilities. For this purpose, he said Pakistan has put in place multi-layered mechanisms and processes.

Retired Pakistani lieutenant general Talat Masood, an expert on his country's atomic program and policy, tells VOA that these mechanisms include Pakistan working with the international community to ensure the protection of its nuclear assets.

He also praises Pakistani officials for going beyond military measures for protection by creating a parliamentary committee to closely watch nuclear policy and its implementation.

"They brought in good legislation and good export controls, which were lacking in the past," he said.

Analysts say these controls exist largely to prevent another A.Q. Khan incident from taking place.

Abdul Qadeer Khan is the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. Up until 2009, he spent five years under house arrest for selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Pakistan denies any prior knowledge of the transfer, but Khan remains a national hero.

Masood says Pakistan utilizes a verification process to analyze the background and training of those involved in the nuclear program.

"What Pakistan has done is it realizes that you cannot have anyone who is in any way unreliable in the nuclear sector," he added. "So what they call 'the reliability factor' acquires huge importance."

He says psychologists, military personnel and civilian agents are part of this process to make sure workers do not have foreign ties or are susceptible to Pakistan's religious extremists or terrorist groups.

But Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a Pakistani physicist, says that due to the highly secretive nature of his country's nuclear program, he takes little comfort in descriptions of its security measures.

"Yes, we have been told that these mechanisms have been put into place, but we absolutely have no means to know if it is indeed true," said Nayyar.

Nayyar, who is a well-known advocate of nuclear disarmament here in Pakistan, says he does appreciate that U.S. officials say they believe his country's nuclear materials are adequately protected.

But he tells VOA that the memory of the Pakistani Taliban's takeover early last year of portions of the country's northwest is still too fresh in his mind to completely alleviate fears that nuclear materials may fall in the wrong hands.

"If some forces like the Taliban can go around and conquer a large part of the country, we are very scared it could happen again," added Nayyar. "And if this extends to an area where there are either installations or storages for nuclear material or nuclear weapons, then we certainly would be in trouble."

Taliban militants advanced within 100 kilometers of the capital Islamabad before Pakistani forces turned them back. This led to concern in the international community about the security of Pakistan's nuclear materials. Since then however, the military has calmed international fears by targeting Taliban militants in their strongholds along the Afghan border.

International agencies estimate Pakistan has anywhere from 70 to 90 nuclear warheads, although Nayyar says this number could be as high as 120.

Despite recent U.S. and Russian pledges to lower their number of nuclear weapons, analysts say they believe Pakistan will increase its arsenal in an effort to keep it on par with its rival and fellow nuclear power India. Both South Asian countries have refused to sign the nuclear International Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Obama Warns About Potential of Nuclear Terrorism

U.S. President Barack Obama has opened the 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit in Washington with a warning about the potential of nuclear terrorism. The president says al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are trying to acquire nuclear material, and must be stopped.

President Obama says the summit is an unprecedented gathering to address an unprecedented threat.

"Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history: The risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of nuclear attack has gone up," Mr. Obama said.

In his address to the first full day of the summit, Mr. Obama said terror networks such as al-Qaida are actively seeking material for nuclear weapons. He said if they get it, they will use it.

"Were they to do so, it would be a catastrophe for the world, causing extraordinary loss of life and striking a major blow to global peace and stability," Mr. Obama said.

The conference follows two days of meetings between Mr. Obama and other heads of state on efforts to keep nuclear materials out of terrorists' hands.

Mr. Obama met Monday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who agreed to work with the United States on sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities. China has been reluctant to place more U.N. sanctions on Tehran.

Also Monday, a spokesman for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich announced Ukraine will get rid of its highly enriched uranium by 2012.

President Obama said he hopes for further progress.

"Last night, in closed session, I believe we made further progress pursuing a shared understanding of the grave threat to our people," Mr. Obama said. "And today, we have the opportunity to take the next steps."

Mr. Obama was to meet one-on-one with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The president announced South Korea will host another summit of this kind two years from now. South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak invited this year's participants to return.

"I will do [my] best to make this summit a success. So I hope to see all of you in Korea," Mr. Lee said.

This year's meeting is expected to end with a joint declaration to guide work in preventing terror groups and criminal gangs from getting access to nuclear material. Mr. Obama says that is a first step toward his long-term goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons

Michelle Obama visits quake-ravaged Haiti

First lady Michelle Obama made a surprise visit Tuesday to the ruins of the Haitian capital, a high-profile reminder that hundreds of thousands of people remain in desperate straits three months after the devastating earthquake.

The first lady and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, took a helicopter tour of Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless because of the quake, before landing at the destroyed national palace to meet President Rene Preval. They later met with students whose lives have been upended by the disaster and walked along a vast, squalid encampment of families living under bed sheets and tents.

"It's powerful," Obama told reporters. "The devastation is definitely powerful."

A number of past and present world leaders have visited since the earthquake, including former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But few have the star power here of the American first lady, whose husband is widely popular in Haiti and throughout the Caribbean.

The U.S. government historically has had a troubled relationship with Haiti, occupying the country for nearly two decades early in the 20th century and later backing brutal dictators, but many Haitians are grateful for the aid and security that the U.S. has provided since the earthquake.

The U.S. has provided nearly $1 billion in humanitarian aid and pledged more than $1 billion in additional aid to the impoverished country.

Obama and Biden's visit is intended to underscore U.S. commitment to the Haitian reconstruction effort and to thank American officials who have worked in the country for the past three months, the administration said in a statement.

Obama smiled and waved her way through the wrecked center of Haiti's capital.

After greeting Preval with a kiss at the crushed national palace, she set off with Biden and Haiti's first lady, Elisabeth Debrosse Preval to a post-quake child care center where 450 boys and girls are participating in art therapy classes in converted city buses donated from Santo Domingo.

Obama jumped, danced and clapped with the singing children. Then the delegation entered one of the green buses for a painting session. Biden made a blue house, Preval a green and yellow sun. Obama painted a purple fish in the ocean.

"It was a request, the kids asked me to," she said. The children's paintings were harder to read, a mix of letters and symbols. Asked what they represented, Obama said "their lives."

People were eager for a glimpse of the first ladies at the huge Champ de Mars camp — and hopeful that they would be seen as well.

"Make sure you get a good look at us!" a man living in the camp yelled at a passing press bus