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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Remarks by President Obama and President Zuma of South Africa before Bilateral Meeting

Blair House

4:19 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I want to officially welcome the South African delegation to this nuclear summit and thank President Zuma for his extraordinary leadership.

So far today I've already met with Prime Minister Singh of India, as well as the President of Kazakhstan, and now we are meeting with the President of South Africa.  I'll be meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan after this meeting. 

The central focus of this nuclear summit is the fact that the single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon.  This is something that could change the security landscape of this country and around the world for years to come.  If there was ever a detonation in New York City, or London, or Johannesburg,  the ramifications economically, politically, and from a security perspective would be devastating.  And we know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a nuclear weapon -- a weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using.

Unfortunately, we have a situation in which there is a lot of loose nuclear material around the world.  And so the central focus for this summit is getting the international community on the path in which we are locking down that nuclear material in a very specific time frame with a specific work plan.  And one of the things that I'm very pleased about is that countries have embraced this goal and they’re coming to this summit, not just talking about general statements of support but rather very specific approaches to how we can solve this profound international problem.

I wanted to especially single out South Africa because South Africa is singular in having had a nuclear weapon program, had moved forward on it, and then decided this was not the right path; dismantled it; and has been a strong, effective leader in the international community around non-proliferation issues.

And so South Africa has special standing in being a moral leader on this issue.  And I wanted to publicly compliment President Zuma and his administration for the leadership they’ve shown.  And we are looking forward toward the possibility of them helping to guide other countries down a similar direction of non-proliferation. 

But I feel very good at this stage in the degree of commitment and sense of urgency that I've seen from the world leaders so far on this issue.  We think we can make enormous progress on this.  And this then becomes part and parcel of the broader focus that we've had over the last several weeks, with the signing of the START treaty between the United States and Russia, reducing our nuclear stockpiles; a Nuclear Posture Review that has been released that sends a clear signal that those who abide by the non-proliferation treaties will have negative assurances, meaning that if they’re abiding by their obligations, then they will not be targeted for potential nuclear weapons.  And this then becomes a central part of a process that is probably the most urgent one and one that we're most concerned with in the short term.

So, thank you again, Mr. President, for your participation and your leadership.  Thank you.

Thank you, everybody.

4:23 P.M. EDT