World leaders in drive to bolster nuclear security

THE HAGUE - Fresh from efforts to isolate Russia over its annexation of Crimea, US President Barack Obama turned his attention Tuesday to his drive to bolster global nuclear security.

Obama heads talks with more than 50 world leaders at the third Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), which aims to strengthen measures to prevent the nightmare scenario of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear material.

The US president has made the issue a centrepiece of his political legacy and said in 2009 that nuclear terrorism was "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security."

According to a draft statement obtained by AFP, leaders will push to reduce stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make a bomb, and convert it to safer lower enriched uranium.

The Dutch hosts have set out three main goals for the summit: reducing the amount of nuclear material, protecting radioactive material and strengthening international cooperation on nuclear security.

Experts say that more than 30 countries could sign up to an initiative pushed by the US, South Korea and the Netherlands to adhere to a new set of guidelines established by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Opening the meeting as host, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said there were "almost 2,000 tonnes of weapons-usable material in circulation worldwide" and stressed that "security has to be our constant concern."

The summit has so far been overshadowed by the crisis in Ukraine, with Obama gathering his G7 allies on Monday to effectively expel Russia from the top table by scrapping a G8 meeting planned in Sochi in June.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the West's failure to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression should not be seen as an invitation to other states to acquire nuclear weapons.

Ukraine gave up its huge Soviet-era nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees from the West and Russia that its sovereignty would be safeguarded.

These assurances have been "seriously undermined", said Ban, stressing that "This should not serve as an excuse to pursue nuclear weapons, which will only increase insecurity and isolation."

The first bi-annual NSS was held in Washington in 2010, with a follow-up summit in Seoul before this year's event in The Hague.

Washington will again host the final summit in 2016.