Nuclear Security Summit concludes with commitments

NUCLEAR SECURITY SUMMIT CONCLUDES WITH COMMITMENTS…. By most measures, the gathering in D.C. this week was a success. The United States received some key commitments it had sought on nuclear materials, and President Obama took another significant step in securing his leadership role on the global stage.

President Barack Obama’s nuclear summit of 47 world leaders met two goals as it ended Tuesday: reaching international consensus on the need to keep weapons-grade nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists, and re-establishing U.S. leadership on nonproliferation.

Several nations agreed to dispose of weapons-grade uranium, end plutonium production, tighten port security and other voluntary steps. All participants endorsed Obama’s call to secure vulnerable nuclear materials in four years, and agreed to seek further cooperation even as they stopped short of any enforceable international agreement.

“We have seized this opportunity,” Obama said in a news conference closing the summit. As a result, he said, “the American people will be safer, and the world will be more secure.”

Gary Samore, the arms control and nonproliferation coordinator for the National Security Council, told reporters, “We used the summit shamelessly as a forcing event to ask countries to bring house gifts. Almost every country came with something new.”

They did, indeed. Ukraine and Chile are giving up their highly enriched uranium; Mexico will accept help in converting a research reactor to lower enriched fuel; Russia is shutting down its last plutonium-production reactor; and China at least expressed some willingness to move forward on new sanctions against Iran.

In the larger sense, David Sanger explained that President Obama could claim two “major accomplishments” from the gathering: “The summit meeting forced countries that had failed to clean up their nuclear surpluses to formulate detailed plans to deal with them, and it kicked into action nations that had failed to move on previous commitments.”

As for the president himself, I seriously doubt the American public was following the summit details closely, and it’s possible the developments will have no effect on his domestic standing at all. But those who were watching saw a president who took strides in demonstrating new levels of leadership on the global stage.

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the notion that Obama is an engaging public figure with skills of political persuasion. This week, we saw the president put these skills to use, perhaps in earnest for the first time, with a large group of international leaders. The French ambassador to the United States noted of Obama, “He’s in charge, he’s chairing the meetings, and this is where his personality plays a big part. He does it very well. And he feels very comfortable doing it.”

In his role as host, though, Obama gave his fellow heads of state a taste of what has been familiar to many Americans who followed the domestic political debate over the past year: the president as seminar leader.

For four hours Tuesday, Obama led a pair of planning sessions to iron out the final details of the communique that was the culmination of the summit.

He sat at the center of the gathering, calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose and offer alternatives to the plan taking shape. Only the heads of state and, at times, two senior aides were allowed in the room, an exclusivity some diplomats called rare.

“He’s never better than when he’s the teacher,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

Obama is trying a new approach to global leadership — and it’s working.