On December first, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov announced in a joint statement that Belarus will give up its stock of highly enriched uranium, a critical component of nuclear weapons, ahead of the next Nuclear Security Meeting in 2012. Secretary Clinton applauded this decision by Belarus as a sign of progress in efforts to advance nuclear security.
This is a very important development for the Obama Administration. From the very beginning of his Presidency, Barack Obama has maintained that the future of nuclear weapons in the 21st century is fundamental to global security and to the peace of the world. Speaking in Prague last year, Mr. Obama said that "the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War." He then announced "a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years."
Since then, the U.S. government has helped six countries get rid of all their highly enriched uranium, and has worked hard to bring Belarus into the fold.
As White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said, the "removal represents a significant step for President Obama's worldwide effort to secure nuclear material."
With this decision, Belarus joins the U.S. in the international effort to convert nuclear facilities to operate with low-enriched uranium fuel, a move that is becoming the global standard in the 21st century. Low-enriched uranium fuel is safer, more efficient and cheaper; it has no nuclear weapons application, and is of no use to criminals or terrorists. It has also secured for Belarus an invitation to the next Nuclear Security Summit.
"I want to publicly thank Belarus for the decision that has been made to eliminate the remaining stock of highly enriched uranium," said Secretary Clinton. "This is a very significant, important step that Belarus has taken, and we look forward to welcoming a delegation to the Nuclear Security Summit in 2012 to commend and celebrate the end of this very important effort."
The joint statement also focused on a central issue in U.S.-Belarus relations: the need for greater respect for democracy and human rights in Belarus as essential towards improving bilateral relations. It is also essential to the progress of the country and its citizens. Belarus could start on that path by ensuring that its December elections meet international standards.