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Obama pledges nuclear cuts, warns N. Korea and Iran
 
SEOUL, March 26 (BSS/AFP) - President Barack Obama said Monday the United States will further cut nuclear stockpiles as he seeks global momentum for measures to keep atomic weapons out of extremist hands at a summit overshadowed by North Korea.

In a speech hours before the opening of a nuclear security
summit in South Korea, Obama said major progress had been made
over the past two years to eliminate or safeguard material that
could be used to make thousands of bombs.

"But we're under no illusions. We know that nuclear material
-- enough for many weapons -- is still being stored without
adequate protection," he said.

"We know that terrorists and criminal gangs are still trying
to get their hands on it, as well as the radioactive material for
a dirty bomb... the danger of nuclear terrorism remains one of
the greatest threats to global security."

Obama urged the leaders or top officials from 53 nations
gathered in Seoul for the summit to "keep at it", and pledged
further actions from the United States including efforts with
Russia to jointly cut their stockpiles.

He said that, with more than 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons
and 5,000 warheads, the United States had "more nuclear weapons
than we need".

"I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the
United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against
any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear
arsenal," he said.

The atomic programmes of North Korea and Iran were also set
to be the focus of intense discussion on the sidelines of the
summit, although they were not officially on the agenda of the
two-day event.

In North Asia, tensions have escalated in recent weeks after
North Korea announced it would launch a long-range rocket in
April, which the United States believes is intended to test a
missile capable eventually of delivering an atomic warhead.

Obama again told North Korea on Monday to abandon its nuclear
ambitions, warning its erratic and provocative behaviour would
not be rewarded.

"By now it should be clear, your provocations and pursuit of
nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they
have undermined it," he said, in what he called a direct address
to the North's new leadership.

"And know this -- there will be no more rewards for
provocations. Those days are over. This is the choice before you.
This is the decision you must make."

The nuclear-armed North insists its rocket launch will merely
put a peaceful satellite into orbit.

South Korea announced Monday it would shoot down the North's
rocket if it strayed into the South's territory. Japan said last
week it would do the same.

Obama was scheduled to meet separately with Chinese President
Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday ahead
of the start of the summit.

Iran's nuclear programme, as well as North Korea's, was
expected to be discussed during those meetings.

Obama warned Iran in his speech that time was running out to
resolve the standoff over its nuclear programme through
diplomacy.

"There is time to solve this diplomatically... but time is
short. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency
that this moment demands," he said.

Experts have acknowledged major progress on safeguarding
nuclear materials since the first atomic security summit in
Washington two years ago.

They point to former Soviet republic Kazakhstan securing over
13 tonnes of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium since
then, while Chile eliminated its entire HEU stockpile.

Obama also said Monday that all HEU had been removed from
Ukraine, and said other nations would report at the Seoul summit
fresh commitments to secure or remove nuclear materials.

Following the Washington summit, the United States and Russia
signed a protocol under which each would dispose of 34 tonnes of
plutonium -- enough for 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Obama said Monday the United States would also seek talks
with Russia on a new step -- reducing not only strategic nuclear
warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve.

Obama said he would discuss the issue with Russia's incoming
President Vladimir Putin when they meet in May.

"I'm confident that, working together, we can continue to
make progress and reduce our nuclear stockpiles," he said.
 
 
 
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