Sunday, April 05, 2009

Obama Calls for World Without Nuclear Weapons: Wash Post + Comment

By Michael D. Shear and Craig Whitlock Washington Post Staff Writers Sunday, April 5, 2009; 12:29 PM

PRAGUE, April 5 -- In a speech grimly punctuated by current events, President Obama Sunday called for a world without nuclear weapons shortly after North Korea defied global warnings to fire a long-range rocket.

Speaking in front of the Prague Castle just hours after the North Korean launch, Obama vowed to immediately seek U.S. ratification of a ban on nuclear testing, convene a summit in Washington to stop the spread of nuclear material within four years and create a nuclear fuel bank to allow peaceful development of nuclear power.

"I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said to a crowd of about 20,000 packed into the historic square in the Czech Republic's capital city. "This goal will not be reached quickly -- perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change."

The president denounced North Korea's launch of a three-stage Taepodong-2 missile, which flew over Japan before apparently falling into the Pacific Ocean, as a provocative act in defiance of the United Nations.

North Korea has called the launch part of a "peaceful" research project, but the United States, Japan and other allies see it as a threat. The missile has the range to reach Hawaii and Alaska.

Obama said Sunday North Korea risks further isolation by pursuing nuclear weapons and the missiles to carry them.

"Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something," he said to loud applause. "The world must stand together to stop the spread of these weapons."

White House officials said it was unclear whether the rocket launch was intended to coincide with the president's speech. But intentional or not, it served as a reminder of the potential dangers of nuclear weapons and the difficulty in restraining nations from developing them.

Obama spoke against a backdrop of the city where Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces crushed a movement of political liberalization in August, 1968. His address put new focus on disarmament and nonproliferation issues, which he had also raised in his foreign policy speeches during the presidential campaign.

The scene of his address, under a hazy sky in one of Eastern Europe's oldest and most beautiful cities, recalled Obama's speech in Germany in the midst of the presidential campaign last year.

Thousands of people waved U.S. and Czech flags and chanted "Obama" as they waited for his arrival, packing Hradcany Square, a hilltop plaza outside Prague Castle, to catch a glimpse of the American president. Unlike Obama's other appearances in Europe, his Prague speech was open to the general public; people started lining up before dawn to get a space on the square.

"It was a historical moment, to have him speak here," said Michaela Dombrovska, 32, a civil-servant from Prague. "He's given us hope that American will lead us to more world peace. He's clearly thought up new and different ideas about how to get rid of nuclear weapons in an effective way."

The president called Prague a "golden city which is both ancient and youthful" and honored the 1968 Prague Spring and the 1989 Velvet Revolution, which peacefully ended the country's domination by the Soviets, by saying that "we are here today because enough people ignored the voice who said the world could not change."

Last week, Obama announced plans to negotiate a new arms reduction treaty with Russia by the end of this year, with the goal of reducing the number of nuclear weapons held by both countries. But the proposals he outlined today go beyond that announcement. Obama pledged a broad effort by his government to convince allies and adversaries to abandon nuclear weapons as a means of security and aggression.

For those worried about a unilateral American disarmament, Obama promised that the country would keep enough nuclear weapons to defend itself and its allies as long as the weapons existed in other nations.

But he made clear that efforts to convince nations such as North Korea and Iran to abandon their nuclear ambitions will not succeed unless the United States and its allies make good on their promises to eventually abandon their own stockpiles of the weapons.

"As a nuclear power -- as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon -- the United States has a moral responsibility to act," he said. "We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it."

He also reiterated his pledge to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe as long as Iran poses a possible nuclear threat to the region.

"If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed," Obama said.

A crucial component of the missile shield -- a radar tracking system -- would be based outside Prague under terms of a treaty signed by the Czech government and the Bush administration last July. But polls show that about 70 percent of Czechs are against the shield, and opponents so far have blocked the Czech parliament from ratifying the agreement.

Dozens of protesters, clad in white hazardous-material protection suits, stood silently outside the Prague Castle grounds to demonstrate against the missile shield.

Senior U.S. officials, discussing Obama's speech, said the administration is "trying to seize the moral high ground" in discussions with countries like North Korea.

"For us to mobilize international pressure against countries like Iran and North Korea, we have to demonstrate that we are committed" to disarmament, said Gary Samore, White House Coordinator for Weapons of Mass Destruction, Security, and Arms Control.

Obama has endorsed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty before, but today pledged to "immediately and aggressively" seek ratification of the treaty in the U.S. Senate. Nearly 148 countries have ratified the treaty, but it still awaits approval by the United States, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and Iran.

Once the United States ratifies the treaty, officials said they expect others could follow quickly.

After the speech, several hundred people marched through central Prague denouncing the shield project. They carried balloons and placards reading, "Yes We Can -- Say No To Missile Shield" and "We Want Democracy -- 70 Percent of Czechs Opposed to U.S. Military Base." An large contingent of riot police kept watch over the march, but no disturbances were reported.

Sabri Djerbi, a 24-year-old university student from Prague, said he was disappointed but not surprised that Obama endorsed the missile shield, after questioning the merits of the project during his presidential campaign.

"The people who tell him what to do are the same people who told George Bush what to do," Djerbi said. "They are just puppets. When Obama won, the American people cried and cried, saying, 'This is the best day of my life.' But no, I knew he wouldn't be any different, really."

Other demonstrators, however, said they were still heartened by part of Obama's speech. While they said they disagreed with his stance on the missile shield, they praised his call for nuclear disarmament and closer relations with Russia and Iran.

"We were really just hoping for a change in rhetoric, and we heard that," said Tanya Sediva, 50, a women's rights activist from Prague. "With Bush, it was only talk about armaments and war. With Obama, it's a breath of fresh air."

Many Czechs who listened to the speech agreed with that sentiment.

Marek Hyl, 24, a business student from Slovakia, said he was pleasantly surprised by Obama's stated willingness to improve relations with Russia and impose deep cuts on both countries' nuclear arsenals. "It's not what you would expect from an American president," Hyl said. "Especially nowadays, given what is going on with Iran and North Korea."

Tomas Poskocil, 28, a genetics researcher from the town of Pisek, said he arrived at Prague Castle at 3 a.m. to get a good perch in the crowd so he could take measure of Obama in person. "We still don't really know who he is," Poskocil said. "Everybody has so many expectations for him, but we need to hear him out and really listen to what he has to say."

Comment: So far, despite his drawbacks in some areas (including the forging of comprehensive humane immigration legislation, failure to constitute a strong housing program for homeless people and his expansion of the War in Afghanistan) he is the most progressive President that the U.S. has ever had. I have always thought that it was the height of hypocrisy for the U.S. to be the shot-caller in relation to nuclear proliferation when it was the only state power who ever actually used the A-Bomb as it did against Japan! Be under no false illusions, corporate capitalism still rules the global economy and the U.S. military machine is the biggest mass killer in world history, but change has to begin somewhere somehow someway. It begins with us, with our checking our own killer instinct and working on our own character defects embodied in the Seven Deadly Sins! Change is ultimately an inside job that takes place in our own personal lives, in the lives of our own families and in the lives in our local communities! Feel cosmic, think global and work local!

Education for Liberation! Join Up!
Peter S. Lopez aka: Peta

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