Obama, at UN, wins stricter stance on nuclear weapons

New Security Council resolution doesn't name Iran or North Korea. But France's Sarkozy singles them out, suggesting more must be done to address nuclear violators.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at the UN headquarters on Thursday.

With Iran and North Korea on everyone's mind, the United Nations Security Council has unanimously approved an American-sponsored resolution aimed at reinvigorating nonproliferation and disarmament efforts.

In an extraordinary session led by President Obama Thursday – the first time an American president has chaired a meeting of the world's premier security body – the 15-member council acted to strengthen the global nuclear nonproliferation regime and to secure the spread of "loose" nuclear materials.

Mr. Obama said the resolution reinforces "the goal of a world without nuclear weapons," yet one where safe and affordable civilian nuclear energy is shared by all countries.

No violators of the world's nuclear development regulations are mentioned by name in the resolution, but leaders said the threats posed by developments in Iran and North Korea provide a backdrop for why stronger international regulation is necessary.

Citing previous council actions on Iran and North Korea, Obama said Thursday's resolution "reaffirms the Security Council has both the authority and the responsibility to ... respond as necessary" when violators threaten international peace and security. "We must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced."

French President Nicholas Sarkozy went further – and with less diplomatic rhetoric – in condemning Iran and North Korea, noting that Iran continues its nuclear development in violation of international law "even as its leaders propose to erase a member of the United Nations from the map." That comment was a reference to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to annihilate Israel.

Mr. Sarkozy, who has adopted a harder line on Iran than the US has taken under Obama, said Iran has violated five UN resolutions since 2005, while North Korea has disregarded every council action since 1993.

"And what do we do?" he asked rhetorically, suggesting a resolution like today's with global objectives doesn't address the two nuclear violators dominating world attention. "There are moments when it is necessary to take action."

World powers, including the US and France, will meet with Iran next week for talks that many international affairs analysts see as a prelude to eventual toughened economic sanctions against Iran.

The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said after the council meeting that even though the resolution does not specifically address Iran and North Korea, it does include provisions that could affect those two countries in the future. For example, she noted the resolution strengthens penalties for withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as North Korea did in 2003 and as Iran has threatened to do.

Some critics of Obama's initiative echo the worries of some nonnuclear states – that the action places the emphasis on nonproliferation without doing enough about disarmament by nuclear powers. But administration officials say both the UN resolution and anticipated actions demonstrate the president's comprehensive approach to reducing the nuclear threat.

"This is a resolution to enshrine the key points of the president's overall strategy," says Gary Samore, White House special coordinator for preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

A key factor in the resolution, Mr. Samore says, are provisions reinforcing the Security Council's "unique" role in addressing noncompliance with global nuclear regulations. "To the extent the resolution will strengthen and define this role, that's a major accomplishment."

Attending the council session were four internationally regarded American statesmen: Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and William Perry. In 2007 the four leaders gave a huge boost to the "zero nukes" vision when they joined in outlining their vision of how to get to a world without nuclear weapons.


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