Seoul readies for nuclear summit

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Seoul readies for nuclear summit

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Leaders from 47 countries and three international organizations including the United Nations discuss enhancing the security of nuclear materials to prevent their possible use for criminal purposes during the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April 2010. The second summit is to be held in Seoul this March and is expected to bring together more leaders representing 55 countries and international organizations. Provided by the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit Preparatory Secretariat


Leaders of 55 nations and international organizations are set to descend on Seoul in four months’ time for the second Nuclear Security Summit, providing an opportunity for Korea to take a leading role in global nuclear security efforts.

But for most members of the public, the issue isn’t on their radar, aside from abstract notions of deterring North Korea’s nuclear threats. That is expected to change, according to many officials here in Seoul, who say that the upcoming summit will be an opportunity to not only strengthen international cooperation on the issue but also raise awareness in the public arena here at home.

“Over the past several years, we have been moving relatively quickly to strengthen nuclear security at home and abroad,” said an official from the Nuclear Safety & Security Commission, a state-funded organization, adding that the issue drew earnest attention only after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

In 2005, Korea signed two international conventions on nuclear security - the International Convention on Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. Both are currently pending at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, but government officials expect the conventions will be ratified within a few months. Once ratified, the two international conventions will have the same force as domestic law.

Two years later, Korea joined the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, an international partnership launched in 2006 that aims to strengthen global capacity to prevent, detect and respond to nuclear terrorism. The 82-member body includes the United States, Russia and Britain.

Its seventh plenary session was held in Daejeon in July in recognition of Korea’s strong nonproliferation and counterterrorism record. At the session, member countries agreed to focus on nuclear forensics, nuclear detection and response and mitigation for the next two years.

In the same month, an international seminar on nuclear security was held by the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security under the theme, “The 2012 Seoul Nuclear Security Summit and the Future of Nuclear Energy: Post-Fukushima Era.”

And just earlier this month, Korea hosted its 10th joint conference on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation with the United Nations on Jeju Island, with around 70 experts from the United Nations, United States, Britain, Germany, Japan and China. There, participants reviewed the progress on commitments made at the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit in Washington last year and discussed possible agreements that could come out of this year’s summit, Seoul officials said.

“Not many Koreans are aware of what their country is doing with regards to nuclear security, so we hope that the Nuclear Security Summit will serve as a chance to inform the public that Korea is among the countries exerting a leadership role in global nuclear security,” said an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The official said that the summit was expected to create nationwide interest in global security and help the government strengthen its global partnerships on the issue.

Initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama to prevent terrorists from obtaining and using nuclear weapons, the first Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington in April 2010, bringing the heads of 47 nations and three international organizations to discuss Obama’s proposed goal of securing the most vulnerable nuclear material within four years.

The summit here in Seoul, to be held March 26-27, will bring some 55 leaders of countries and international organizations, making the gathering the largest diplomatic event to be hosted by Korea, even bigger than the Seoul Group of 20 Summit in November 2010.

With the summit less than four months away, the preparatory committee and preparatory secretariat are beefing up their efforts to have everything ready in time. They are now in the process of recruiting 750 volunteers to ensure smooth operations of the summit.

A key element is raising public awareness. On Nov. 14, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced that it had formed an advisory group comprised of veteran diplomatic figures at home and abroad. The 15-member “Eminent Persons Group” will help promote the summit around the world through publications and media interviews, the ministry said. The body’s first meeting will be held today in Seoul.

Earlier this month, the ministry also named Korean-American singer Park Jung-hyun (Lena Park), television actor Jang Geun-seok and two child actors as ambassadors to help promote the summit. On the same day, around 60 young Koreans, mostly college students, were assigned as “e-reporters” to raise awareness of the summit in Korea and overseas through blogs and other online activities.

The agenda for the upcoming Seoul Nuclear Security Summit is still under discussion, but many of its slated agenda topics will be follow-ups to the first summit in Washington, such as response mechanisms to nuclear terrorism, protection of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities and prevention of illegal transfers of nuclear materials.

The issue of nuclear safety - protection of nuclear materials against natural disasters - is a topic suggested by Seoul that will likely be discussed at the March summit, especially in light of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Seoul officials said.

The finalized agenda and schedule are being determined at a series of meetings by negotiators, including the third and final chief negotiators’ meeting that is slated for mid-January in New Delhi.

At the second sherpa meeting on Oct. 4-5 in Helsinki, Finland, the chief negotiators from 47 participating countries and four international organizations including the United Nations and the IAEA agreed on the five underlying principles of the Seoul Communique.

The principles, announced earlier by the government, include placing nuclear security at the center of the discussions, continuing progress from the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit and ensuring the voluntary nature of national commitments and participation. The other two principles are opting not to create a new regime and respecting President Obama’s vision to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in a four-year period.

The government has said nuclear weapons will again be excluded from Seoul’s summit as it was in the Washington summit because there are other international regimes dealing with it such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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