THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — President Barack Obama declared Tuesday that a security summit took "concrete steps" to prevent nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists even though Russia and China failed to sign an agreement to beef up inspections.
One of the key results emerging from the two-day summit in The Hague was that 35 countries pledged to turn international guidelines on nuclear security into national laws and open up their procedures for protecting nuclear installations to independent scrutiny. The summit also featured new reduction commitments, with Japan, Italy and Belgium agreeing to cut their stocks of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.
"This was not about vague commitments, it was about taking tangible and concrete steps to secure more of the world's nuclear material so it never falls into the hands of terrorists and that's what we've done," Obama said.
The U.S. president initiated a string of summits in 2010 aimed at preventing terrorists getting their hands on weapons-grade nuclear material. He hailed the progress made so far as a "fundamental shift in our approach to nuclear security." Since 2010, the number of countries that have enough material to build a nuclear weapon has fallen from 39 to 25.
"I'll close by reminding everyone that one of the achievements of my first summit in 2010 was Ukraine's decision to remove all of its highly enriched uranium from its nuclear fuel sites," Obama said. "Had that not happened, those dangerous nuclear materials would still be there now. And the difficult situation we're dealing with in Ukraine today would involve yet another level of concern."
Despite the progress made so far, analysts said Tuesday's key agreement on turning guidelines into law needs more support. Notably absent from the agreement were Russia, China, India and Pakistan. North Korea and Iran were not even invited to the Nuclear Security Summit.
"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," said Miles Pomper of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
The plan unveiled by the foreign ministers of the Netherlands and South Korea and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz involves countries adopting as law guidelines drawn up by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"The initiative shows commitment to take the lead when it comes to voluntary implementation of a number of IAEA recommendations and guidelines," John Bernhard, a former Danish ambassador to the IAEA, said.
"Hopefully, there will be an ambitious follow-up in the United States in 2016 aiming at the continuous improvement of nuclear security," Bernhard said.
Obama said fully securing "all nuclear and radiological material — civilian and military — so that it can no longer pose a risk to any of our citizens ... is essential to the security of the entire world."
He added that more still needs to be done.
"Given the catastrophic consequences of even a single attack, we cannot be complacent," he said.
Speaking to The Associated Press after the summit, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the number who signed up to the initiative was beyond his expectations and he predicted more countries would sign up in coming days.
"This is a process of a big fleet of ships ... — 53 countries, four international organizations," he said. "We have agreed to a very ambitious communique and at the same time we have a part of this fleet which is even wanting to go further and is inviting the others to join them."
Obama went on to conclude that "the more of this material we can secure, the safer all of our countries will be."
Michelle Cann of the Partnership for Global Security said Tuesday's deal was significant because it marks "a change in the way security is done."
Cann said the gains from reducing nuclear material will likely trail off in the future. Without a global treaty on nuclear security, the next phase in improving security will be for groups of like-minded countries to lead the way. That, she said, will put peer pressure on nations as none will want to be seen as the most lax.
Agreeing to external checks, conducted under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is especially important, she added.
A final summit is scheduled for 2016 in the United States, but the process of securing nuclear material will not end there.
"Obama is thinking about a sustainable nuclear security system post-2016 so creating the architecture will be his homework," said Chang-Hoon Shin, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. "Sustainable, global nuclear security architecture is a long-term aim."
Associated Press writers Toby Sterling and Juergen Baetz contributed.