On Thursday President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed an arms control treaty hailed by the White House as a big step forward "to reset relations with Russia," as well as for the US president's broader nuclear agenda. The treaty, signed at a ceremony in a ballroom in Prague, reduces the number of strategic nuclear warheads each side can deploy to 1,550, along with cuts in launchers and new verification procedures.
"This day demonstrates the determination of the US and Russia -- the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons -- to pursue responsible global leadership," President Obama said.
But let's not kid ourselves and celebrate. There will be enough nuclear firepower left on each side to devastate the world many times over.
"Nuclear weapons are not simply an issue for the United States and Russia," Mr. Obama continued. "A nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist is a danger to people everywhere, from Moscow to New York, from the cities of Europe to South Asia."
In other words, with the more immediate concern being attempts by terrorist groups like al-Qaeda to acquire nuclear weapons, the remaining 10 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal becomes a significant concern. Significant in that it is in the hands of countries half of which are not signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), such as India, Pakistan North Korea, and Israel.
This upcoming Monday and Tuesday, President Obama will also meet with leaders of more than 40 countries with the expectation of issuing a joint statement on the challenges and importance of nuclear security. He hopes to bring everyone to agree on a common "work plan" for cracking down on the illicit trade of nuclear material. Of course we know that Iran, which will be absent from the summit, will top the agenda.
But it's not only Ahmadinejad who will be missed at the summit on nuclear security; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled his visit to the US.
According to Israeli media sources, PM Netanyahu made the decision after learning that Egypt and Turkey intended to raise the issue of Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal. "Presumed" that is, because Israel has never confirmed or denied that it possesses atomic weapons.
"The prime minister has decided to cancel his trip to Washington to attend the nuclear conference next week, after learning that some countries including Egypt and Turkey plan to say Israel must sign the NPT," Reuters news agency quoted a senior Israeli official as saying. Israel's Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor will take Netanyahu's place in the nuclear summit.
Mr. Netanyahu's canceled visit to Washington comes at a time when relations between Israel and the US have hit rock bottom.
One hundred and eighty-nine countries, including all Arab states, are party to the NPT. Only Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not.
In late March, during a closed-door session, the Arab League called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and a review of the 1970 NPT in order to create a definitive plan for eliminating nuclear weapons. They also called on the UN to declare the Middle East as a nuclear-weapons-free region.
Interestingly enough, the similarities between Iran's and Israel's desire for nuclear dominance can be seen in Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's claim that Iran is developing its nuclear program for "peaceful purposes." That assertion brings to mind David Ben-Gurion's own statement in December of 1960. When U-2 spy planes identified Dimona as an Israeli nuclear site, Ben-Gurion claimed that it was only a nuclear research center built for "peaceful purposes."