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Obama: ‘Madmen’ mustn't be allowed to get nuclear material

Obama said no group had succeeded in obtaining bomb material but that al-Qaeda had long sought them.

FILE: US President Barack Obama Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - United States (US) President Barack Obama urged world leaders on Friday to do more to safeguard nuclear facilities to prevent "madmen" from groups like Islamic State from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon or a radioactive "dirty bomb."

Speaking at a nuclear security summit in Washington, Obama said there was a persistent and evolving threat of nuclear terrorism despite progress in reducing such risks. But he insisted: "We cannot be complacent."

Obama said no group had succeeded in obtaining bomb material but that al Qaeda had long sought them and cited actions by Islamic State militants behind recent attacks in Paris and Brussels that raised similar concerns.

"There is no doubt that if these madmen ever got their hands on a nuclear bomb or nuclear material, they would certainly use it to kill as many innocent people as possible," he said. "It would change our world."

Obama was hosting more than 50 world leaders for his fourth and final summit focused on efforts to lock down vulnerable atomic materials to prevent nuclear terrorism. North Korea's nuclear defiance was also high on the agenda.

He has less than 10 months left in office to follow through on one of his signature foreign policy initiatives. While gains have been made, many arms-control advocates say the diplomatic process - which Obama conceived and championed - has lost momentum and could slow even further once he leaves the White House in January.

A boycott by Russian President Vladimir Putin, unwilling to join in a US-dominated gathering at a time of increased tensions between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine and Syria, adds to doubts that the meeting will yield any major decisions.

Deadly bomb attacks in Brussels last month have fueled concern that Islamic State could eventually target nuclear plants, steal material and develop radioactive "dirty bombs". Militants were found to have secretly videotaped the daily routine of a senior manager of a Belgian nuclear plant, Obama said.

Obama said the required 102 countries had now ratified an amendment to a nuclear security treaty that would tighten protections against nuclear theft and smuggling.

"Our nations have made it harder for terrorists to get their hands on nuclear materials. We have measurably reduced the risks," Obama said.

But he acknowledged that with roughly 2,000 tons of nuclear material stored around the word, "not all of this is properly secured."

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