Obama hails ef­forts to se­cure ex-soviet arms

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - By matthew Daly

WASHINGTON — Hail­ing two decades of ef­forts to help the former Soviet Union se­cure nu­clear weapons stock­piles, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Mon­day that the world must con­tinue to stand guard against nu­clear threats — in­clud­ing ter­ror- ists who seek to gain con­trol of nu­clear weapons.

“We can­not let our guard down,” Obama said, call­ing ef­forts to com­bat nu­clear ter­ror­ism one of his top pri­or­i­ties as pres­i­dent.

Obama praised the 20-year-old Co­op­er­a­tive Threat Re­duc­tion pro­gram, which has pro­vided bil­lions of dol­lars in U.S. equip­ment and know-how to help Rus­sia and former Soviet bloc na­tions safe­guard and dis­man­tle nu­clear and chem­i­cal weapons.

The pro­gram, ini­ti­ated by Sen. Richard Lu­gar, RInd., and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., has helped de­ac­ti­vate more than 7,600 nu­clear war­heads.

Mark­ing the pro­gram’s 20th an­niver­sary, Obama cited the “ex­tra­or­di­nary progress” that’s been made in se­cur­ing nu­clear ma­te­ri­als and thanked Nunn and Lu­gar for their lead­er­ship.

In a speech at the Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity in Washington, the pres­i­dent called Nunn and Lu­gar “vi­sion­ar­ies” who “chal­lenged us to think anew” about ways to se­cure nu­clear stock­piles pro­duced dur­ing the Cold War. He also said they were models for bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion, who showed great in­tegrity, de­cency and lead­er­ship over their long ca­reers.

Obama called Lu­gar, who was de­feated this year in a bid for re-elec­tion, a friend, and said his legacy — and Nunn’s — is “a safer and more se­cure world.”

The pro­gram Nunn and Lu­gar cre­ated pro­vided re­in­forced rail cars to carry nu­clear war­heads, high-tech se­cu­rity sys­tems for stor­age sites and helped pay for the dis­man­tling of moth­balled nu­clear sub­marines and other weapons. It played a ma­jor role in prevent­ing deadly weapons from fall­ing into the wrong hands while the Rus­sian government was fac­ing a se­vere money crunch amid an eco­nomic melt­down and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that fol­lowed the 1991 col­lapse of the Soviet Union.

The pro­gram is set to ex­pire this spring, and Rus­sia has said it will not au­to­mat­i­cally ex­tend it with­out a ma­jor over­haul.

Obama noted state­ments about the pro­gram’s fu­ture by Rus­sian lead­ers and said the U.S. re­sponse is, “Let’s up­date it. Let’s work with Rus­sia as an equal part­ner. Let’s con­tinue the work that is so im­por­tant.”

Obama said he was op­ti­mistic that a new agree­ment can be reached, echo­ing com­ments Nunn and Lu­gar have made in re­cent months.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta spoke be­fore Obama and also heaped praise on his former col­leagues, Nunn and Lu­gar. Panetta awarded the men the De­fense De­part­ment’s Medal for Distin­guished Pub­lic Ser­vice, the Pen­tagon’s high­est civil­ian honor.

“We can say that the course of his­tory changed for the bet­ter be­cause th­ese two men helped the na­tion con­front the threat of nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion at the end of the Cold War,” Panetta said.

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