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Obama: US has 'moral obligation' to lead in reducing nuclear stockpiles

Updated 12:35 a.m. ET : SEOUL – President Barack Obama’s speech at a university that prides itself on diversity and “producing numerous CEO’s and outstanding diplomats” was billed as an update to his comprehensive nuclear energy and nuclear security agenda he set forth in Prague in 2009.

However, even with strong words directed towards North Korea, his commitment to as one White House source put it, “reduce America's nuclear weapons and the role they play in our national security strategy” could prove to be fodder for his Republican rivals back in the states. 

The president said he believes the United States has a “moral obligation” to act and lead the world in reducing nuclear stockpiles.  He continued, “I say this as president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons.  I say it as a Commander-in-Chief who knows that our nuclear codes are never far from my side.  Most of all, I say it as a father, who wants my two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can’t be instantly wiped out.”

He announced that when he meets with Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin in May he plans on discussing taking steps so that both Russia and the United States reduce, “not only our strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve.”  The president said such a step would have never been taken before.  It is also a step that is sure to be pounced upon by rivals who already see the reductions he is calling for in defense spending as a sign of weakness.

The president also boasted about steps taken in the last few years to “reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy” and derided the Cold War stockpiles as being ill-suited for combating the type of terrorism America faces.

But while pushing a message that the United States has to lead the world on reducing nuclear weapons and materials throughout the world, he took time to speak directly to Pyongyang about the choice the North Korean leaders have if they continue to provoke South Korea and the rest of the world.

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Echoing his comments from a press conference yesterday he said, “your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek; they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you're more isolated.”

He continued, “There will be no rewards for provocations.  Those days are over.  To the leaders of Pyongyang I say, this is the choice before you.  This is the decision that you must make.  Today we say, Pyongyang, have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea.”

The reports that North Korea has moved a long-range rocket to a launch pad this weekend, that could be used to carry a nuclear weapon is just the latest provocation that strained new talks between the US and North Korea.

And once again the president seemed to call for the North Koreans to call for a different way of life:

“This much is true:  The currents of history cannot be held back forever.  The deep longing for freedom and dignity will not go away.  So, too, on this divided peninsula.  The day all Koreans yearn for will not come easily or without great sacrifice.  But make no mistake, it will come.”

Obama calls Korean DMZ 'Freedom's frontier'

The speech at Hankuk University comes right before President Obama is scheduled to meet with the leaders of Russia and China where the thorny issues of North Korea, Syria and Iran are expected to be discussed.  Later in the day he will attend the beginning of the international Nuclear Security Summit. The summit includes 53 countries and four international organizations that have pledged a commitment to securing nuclear materials around the world.

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