Oil Report

U.S. wants nuclear commitments at April summit

* “Cannot wait for an act of nuclear terrorism”

* Biden presses for test-ban treaty ratification

* Sounds optimistic about new START treaty

WASHINGTON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - The United States will seek commitments from its allies on securing vulnerable nuclear material within four years at a summit to be held in Washington in April, Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

“It’s a very high priority,” Biden said in a speech about America’s nuclear posture.

President Barack Obama will host the April 12-13 summit bringing together representatives from as many as 43 countries to help secure the world’s loose nuclear material.

Biden, speaking at the National Defense University, also urged Congress to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, an effort that stalled during Bill Clinton’s presidency in the 1990s.

Obama called last year in Prague for a world without nuclear weapons and has made non-proliferation a priority.

He hopes emphasizing the issue will increase pressure on Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs. The United States is currently trying to rally global support for tougher economic sanctions against Iran.

Biden said the summit will seek to advance Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material within four years.

“We cannot wait for an act of nuclear terrorism before coming together to share the best practices and raise security standards, and we will seek firm commitments from our partners to do just that in April,” he said.

Biden also sounded optimistic about completing negotiations with Russia on extending the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START) that expired in December. The treaty aims to reduce each country’s nuclear stockpiles.

“A new START treaty will promote strategic stability and bolster the global effort to prevent proliferation by showing that the world’s leading nuclear powers are committed to reducing their arsenals,” Biden said.

A 1999 vote on U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty fell 19 votes short of the 67 needed for approval by the Senate, which at the time was controlled by Republicans. Ratification now is expected to be similarly difficult under a Democratic majority.

“We are confident that all reasonable concerns raised about the treaty back then, concerns about verification and the reliability of our own arsenal, have now been addressed,” Biden said. “The test ban treaty is as important as ever.”

He said Obama’s proposed 2011 budget requested $7 billion to maintain U.S. nuclear stockpile, parts of which are showing signs of age and decay. That is $624 million more than Congress approved last year and an increase of $5 billion over the next five years.

Biden said the United States was not about to abandon its nuclear arsenal any time soon.

“Until that day comes we have to do everything in our power to maintain our arsenal and make sure it’s reliable,” he said. (Editing by Alan Elsner)