Obama Wraps Up Final Nuclear Security Summit In Washington, D.C.

Apr 1, 2016
Originally published on April 1, 2016 8:29 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Obama has just wrapped up an international summit meeting aimed at reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism. He criticized Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump for suggesting more countries should get nuclear weapons. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now. And Scott, this summit meeting is part of the president's long-term strategy to whittle away at the world's nuclear stockpiles. Donald Trump, of course, suggesting going the opposite way. What did the president have to say about that?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Obama was asked about some interviews Trump has given in recent days in which he suggested, for example, South Korea and Japan might need their own nuclear weapons to address the threat posed by North Korea. And Trump said they shouldn't just rely on the United States military protection. Trump has also refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against a terrorist group in Europe. That would be a 180-degree turn from the direction the president's been moving in. And Obama was blunt in his assessment of the signal that Trump's words would send.

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BARACK OBAMA: What the statements you mention tell us - they tell us that the person who made the statements doesn't much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean Peninsula or the world generally.

HORSLEY: Obama said he's talked about Trump's comments with other world leaders on the sidelines of this summit. He says a lot of them are concerned about what they're hearing from the GOP front-runner. In the past, you know, Obama has referred to Trump as a carnival barker. And he said while other countries might like a carnival atmosphere in their own elections, they don't like to see that from the United States.

CORNISH: I want to dig in a little more on the nuclear summit itself. This is the fourth one the president has attended. Are he and his fellow leaders making any progress?

HORSLEY: Yes, some progress, though maybe not as much as some nuclear watchdogs would like to see. The idea behind these summits is to keep nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorist groups. And Obama notes since the first Nuclear Security Summit back in 2010, more than a dozen countries have gotten rid of their most dangerous nuclear stockpiles.

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OBAMA: By working together, our nations have made it harder for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear material. We have measurably reduced the risk.

HORSLEY: That said, though, Obama concedes there's still a lot of nuclear material floating around, some of it not as well protected as it should be. And he warned if terrorists do get a hold of that material, there's no doubt they could use it to kill a lot of innocent people.

CORNISH: And, of course, one terrorist group in particular, ISIS, is very much on the radar, including at this summit, right?

HORSLEY: Yes. As we saw in Brussels and in Paris last year, ISIS fighters are deadly enough with conventional weapons. But there has been some evidence that the people behind the Brussels attack were monitoring a Belgian nuclear official, raising the possibility that ISIS has set its sights on either nuclear sabotage or getting a dirty bomb. That really highlights the stakes for participants at this Nuclear Security Summit. And even as the White House says it's making headway battling ISIS in the strongholds of Iraq and Syria, the president warns the terrorist group is still a very potent threat.

CORNISH: That NPR's Scott Horsley, talking to us about the fourth and final global nuclear summit. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: It's my pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.