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Assessing The Legacy Of The Nuclear Security Summit


For more on what this summit accomplished, we turn now to the State Department, where Rose Gottemoeller is under secretary for arms control and international security. Welcome to the program.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: My pleasure, very glad to be with you.

KELLY: Let me turn the question to you. What is your hope for the lasting impact of this summit?

GOTTEMOELLER: The lasting impact of this summit I think comes from the way the president has raised awareness among his peers about the absolute necessity of paying attention to the problem of nuclear weapons or nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists. When the president got started with this effort in 2009, there were countries around the world that if they caught a smuggler with nuclear material, they didn't have the laws in place to handle that kind of crime. So the great benefit of these Nuclear Security Summits is they've raised national awareness at the highest level. And it's permeated down into governments so that they have put in place laws, measures and have joined arms with us in important nuclear security projects around the world.

KELLY: I know there were some things that did not go to plan, among them that Vladimir Putin didn't show. You've called that a disappointment. How big a setback is that not to have had Russia at the table this week?

GOTTEMOELLER: Well, first, I want to say what a good partner Russia's been on nuclear security since the breakup of the Soviet Union, really. You know, Russia takes this matter seriously, even to the present day. They were the country that took upon themselves the burden really of taking highly-enriched uranium out of Iran and disposing of it. So they are still good partners on these nuclear security problems. I'm frankly puzzled myself of why they decided not to come to the summit. I've been saying well, that's a good question to ask them. I'm afraid I can't get inside their heads.

KELLY: Can you achieve significant breakthroughs on nuclear security without Russia at a meeting like this?

GOTTEMOELLER: We can and we have. There are many countries across the globe participating who have civil nuclear programs. It's frankly in these civil nuclear programs that we most needed to raise awareness about this problem of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists. And frankly, the other major piece that we haven't talked about yet is dirty bomb material, radiological sources used in hospitals or in research programs. And these are the kinds of small sources - they're not going to create what I call a weapon of mass destruction. But if a dirty bomb goes off somewhere, it will be a weapon of mass disruption. It'll cause a lot of panic. It'll cause a lot of economic disruption. So we need to really worry about dirty bombs as well, and that's another goal of the summit process.

KELLY: Another country I want to ask you about and that's North Korea, which with magnificent timing fired off another missile into the sea right after President Obama had been holding meetings with the leaders of North Korea and Japan, with the very goal of telling North Korea to stop being provocative. What is your read of the message that Pyongyang's sending there?

GOTTEMOELLER: Pyongyang's been really focused on taking these kinds of actions really since the beginning of 2016 with the test of a nuclear device in January and then these missile tests. In a way, there's nothing new here. But on the other hand, we are very concerned that this was their fourth nuclear test. And for that reason, we put in place very strong sanctions, the strongest ever joined by China in particular was important. It's a very significant threat, North Korea. But at the same time, we've got to be aware that we've got tools to work this problem with.

KELLY: Right. I mean, it's interesting listening to you because it sounds as though if we had been having this conversation a decade ago, we'd be having a very different conversation about securing stockpiles and nation states. And now it sounds as though much of the attention is still there but is also on terrorist threats, dirty bombs - in some ways a much harder challenge to wrap your arms around.

GOTTEMOELLER: Yes but a much more sophisticated understanding from the level of top leaders all the way down to police forces. We're never going to completely be done with this problem. We're going to have to keep pushing to resolve severe and persistent threats. But now we've got the tools to do so, and we've also got the knowledge base and the understanding of how important a priority it must be.

KELLY: That's Rose Gottemoeller, speaking to us from the State Department, where she is under secretary for arms control and international security. Thanks so much for taking the time.

GOTTEMOELLER: You're welcome, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.