PRAGUE, (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama set out his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons on Sunday, vowing to involve all states with atomic weapons in the process of reducing arsenals.
In an open-air speech in Prague, he said that if the nuclear threat from Iran were eliminated, this would remove the driving force for building anti-missile defences.
Visiting the Czech capital on a one-week trip marking his presidential debut on the world stage, Obama committed himself to reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force and seeking tough penalties for countries that broke the rules on non-proliferation.
“The United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons,” he told a cheering crowd. He said North Korea had broken the rules with a rocket launch earlier on Sunday and called on Pyongyang to abandon its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
North Korea said the launch was intended purely to put a satellite in orbit.
Its action will be discussed at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council later on Sunday.
The Czech Republic is one of two sites in eastern Europe for a planned U.S. missile shield that has angered Russia.
Washington says the shield is necessary to counter threats from what it calls rogue states such as Iran.
“As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with the missile system,” Obama said. “If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile contruction in Europe will be removed.”
Thousands of Czechs and foreign tourists crowded into Hradcanske Square outside the medieval Prague Castle to hear Obama speak. A U.S. official quoted city authorities as estimating the crowd at more than 20,000.
Aides said Obama hoped that calling for a nuclear-free world would lend credibility to Washington’s efforts to resolve atomic disputes with countries such as Iran and North Korea.
Earlier, Gary Samore, White House coordinator for arms control, said the North Korean rocket launch meant missile defence would remain a priority.
“The North Korean test illustrates the importance of continuing to develop missile defence in order to protect … both the country and our allies in Asia,” Samore told reporters.
In Prague, Obama planned to discuss climate change and energy security with the leaders of the 27 European Union countries at a summit hosted by the Czech EU presidency.