President Obama met individually with some visiting foreign leaders Monday before the start of a two-day summit of 47 nations that will focus on how to better safeguard nuclear weapons materials, both old and new, to keep them out of the hands of terrorists.
The gathering at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation's capital is considered an unprecedented effort to rally global action on securing vulnerable nuclear materials.
"It's an indication of how deeply concerned everybody should be with the possibilities of nuclear traffic, and I think at the end of this we're going to see some very specific, concrete actions that each nation is taking that will make the world a little bit safer," Obama said Monday.
Obama met with five leaders Sunday and held similar talks Monday, starting with King Abdullah II of Jordan. He also met with President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine, who announced afterward that his country will get rid of all its highly enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons, within the next two years.
Other side meetings scheduled for Monday were with leaders from Malaysia and Armenia and President Hu Jintao of China. The bilateral talks were intended to bolster the summit that includes a working dinner Monday night and all-day plenary session chaired by Obama on Tuesday.
"The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon," Obama said Sunday, appearing with South African President Jacob Zuma in Washington.
"This is something that could change the security landscape in this country and around the world for years to come. If there was ever a detonation in New York City or London or Johannesburg, the ramifications - economically, politically and from a security perspective - would be devastating. We know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and would have no compunction at using them."
The summit also is the centerpiece of a major Obama objective aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and technology. As it begins, the United States is negotiating with the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council on tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.