Video: Bush warns of WMD threat

msnbc.com news services
updated 2/11/2004 7:47:59 PM ET 2004-02-12T00:47:59

President Bush warned in a speech Wednesday that U.N. safeguards failed to stop the spread of nuclear secrets by a Pakistani scientist and must be strengthened to halt a nuclear black market.

No new countries should have the ability to enrich or process nuclear material, he said in a speech at the National Defense University, while arguing that international efforts to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction have been neither broad nor effective enough and require tougher action from all nations.

“The greatest threat before humanity today is the possibility of secret and sudden attack with chemical or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons,” Bush said.

“We must confront the danger with open eyes and unbending purpose,” he said. “I’ve made clear to all the policy of this nation: America will not permit the terrorists and dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

His call to prevent countries from acquiring the equipment and technology to enrich uranium and reprocess spent fuel for plutonium — even if the stated intent is to build civilian power facilities — was likely to anger Iran and North Korea and the countries that have supplied them.

Bush proposed what amounts to a limit on the number of nations allowed to produce nuclear fuel in order to prevent the use of civilian nuclear technology to enrich uranium for making weapons.

Criticism aimed at U.N. agency
The president also leveled criticism at the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, calling for the creation of a special committee to focus on safeguards and verification and to ensure that nations comply with international obligations.

The agency is seen as ineffective by many in the Bush administration who cite the agency’s failure to stop weapons programs in Libya, North Korea and other countries.

Video: Bush has been under renewed fire over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which were the main rationale for going to war. Last week, he reversed course and established an independent commission to examine prewar intelligence lapses.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush's philosophy is that nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction can no longer be considered a tool of last resort in a world where terrorists seek maximum destruction.

The Pakistani picture
Bush also used the disclosure that the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program sold nuclear technology to countries such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an example of the global nature of the problem.

After Abdul Vader Khan confessed last week to transferring nuclear secrets, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at first granted him a pardon and then made it dependent on the outcome of an investigation.

“The president has wanted to give this speech for a couple of months, but it was to wait until we could say more about the A.Q. Khan network,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on NBC's “Today” show Wednesday. “The key here is not just to deal with rogue states but to deal with these shadowy networks ... to make sure we know the full story, to make sure we root out all the tentacles.” 

Video: Scandal in Pakistan

The Bush administration has been reluctant to criticize Musharraf directly because of his help in the war on terrorism and because it wants to do nothing to encourage Islamic extremists to overthrow him.

“Because of Pakistan’s cooperation, because of Pakistan’s action based on information that they’ve been receiving from a number of sources and because of very good intelligence work by the United States, Great Britain and others, we really now have a chance to wrap up this group,” Rice said.

While applauding Musharraf for making such a politically risky move, Bush also signaled the U.S. expectations that Pakistan finish the job of completely dismantling the black market network in which Khan was involved.

North Korean connection
Bush for the first time also publicly accused Khan’s network of supplying to North Korea the centrifuge technology that is needed to make highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

The administration previously had said that it believed Khan’s network was supplying weapons technology to North Korea, Libya and Iran but had not specified what.

The administration and North Korea are locked in a dispute over whether the Koreans are trying to develop nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium. North Korea has acknowledged building nuclear weapons using plutonium but denies it is trying to build a weapon with highly enriched uranium — a key dispute as the two nations head into talks later this month with four other countries, including China.

Positive, negative reactions
Reaction to Bush's proposals were mixed.

Ashton Carter, who was an assistant defense secretary during the Clinton administration and is an expert on nuclear weapons, said Bush’s proposals could be helpful.

“If the United States can manage the diplomatic job of making this proposal a reality, it will be a major step forward in stopping nuclear proliferation  and preventing nuclear terrorism,” he said.

But Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher said the president’s intentions seemed long on rhetoric and short on action, criticizing him for not stepping up funding for programs to secure Russia’s weapons stockpiles and for withdrawing the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

“Since September 11th, the president has rightfully highlighted the threat of terrorist organizations and rogue nations acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies,” said Tauscher, D-Calif. “At the same time, he has consistently underfunded and even cut the nonproliferation programs that would make the United States safer.”

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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