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U.N. Commits To Nuclear-Free World


Now to the United Nations, where the Obama administration put nuclear nonproliferation front and center today. President Obama presided over an historic Security Council session. Members unanimously passed a resolution committing nations to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, that lofty goal was laid out in part as a message to Iran and North Korea.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The Security Council has only met at the heads-of-state level four times before, and today was a particularly poignant moment for President Obama. He became the first U.S. president to chair the council.

President BARACK OBAMA: I called for this one so that we may address at the highest level a fundamental threat to the security of all peoples and all nations: the spread and use of nuclear weapons.

KELEMEN: His secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, left the council briefly to go to a conference room just downstairs to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. She pointed out that she was the first secretary in a decade to address that conference.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): We come to this conference with an optimistic spirit that all parties can make a contribution toward a world without nuclear weapons. That is the promise of the CTBT. We rededicate ourselves to this effort, and we thank all of you who have continued the hard work over the last 10 years. We're happy to be back working with you.

KELEMEN: President Obama is planning to host a meeting next year on safeguarding nuclear weapons material. That and his summit at the Security Council today are part of his efforts to shore up the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

Pres. OBAMA: Now, we harbor no illusions about the difficulty of bringing about a world without nuclear weapons. We know there are plenty of cynics, and that there will be setbacks to prove their point. But there will also be days like today that push us forward, days that tell a different story.

KELEMEN: The resolution that the U.N. Security Council approved 15 to 0 calls for further progress on nuclear arms reductions. President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, say they're working on that. The resolution also raises concern about Iran and North Korea but does not name them specifically. President Obama says the idea is not to single out countries, but to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, through an interpreter, brought the lofty rhetoric right down to reality.

President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through Translator) We are living in a real world, not a virtual world. We are saying yes, reductions and President Obama himself has said, I dream of a world where there would be no such weapons. And yet right in front of us, two countries are doing exactly the opposite -right now.

KELEMEN: Sarkozy said that Iran has flouted five Security Council resolutions, and North Korea continues to defy the U.N. as well by firing off missiles and testing nuclear weapons. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says the council can't stand by while Iran and North Korea reject offers for cooperation on peaceful nuclear power and instead, takes steps to develop nuclear weapons.

President GORDON BROWN (Great Britain): Today, I believe we have to draw a line in the sand. Iran must not allow its actions to prevent the international community from moving forward to a more peaceful era. And as evidence of its breach of international agreements grows, we must now consider far tougher sanctions together.

KELEMEN: One country that has recently given up its nuclear ambitions, Libya, has a rotating seat on the Security Council. But Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi did not show up to today's Security Council summit, though he's in New York for the first time in his 40-year reign. He had his ambassador deliver the message that Libya thinks Israel has to open up its nuclear facilities to inspection if the world is to avoid an arms race in the Middle East.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, The United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.