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Op-Ed: USA Today: How to Effectively Confront Nuclear Threat from Terrorists

Location: Washington DC

USA Today: How to Effectively Confront Nuclear Threat from Terrorists

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The following op-ed from Leaders Pelosi and Reid appeared in USA Today this morning.

In the first of last fall's presidential debates, George Bush was asked a big question - and he had a ready answer. When asked what was "the single most serious threat to American national security," he said it was "weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network."

He was right. But in the tough work of tracking down loose nuclear weapons, stopping the proliferation of nuclear technology and clamping down on the emergence of new nuclear powers, actions don't just speak louder than words, they are the only things that count.

That's why we find it so troubling that a recent report by the joint House-Senate National Security Advisory Group found that when it comes to the threat the United States faces from allowing the world's worst weapons to fall into the hands of the world's worst terrorists, the administration has been so passive.

The president sent us into war with Iraq under the justification of capturing Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, but as we all now know, no such weapons were found. But in the places where we know these weapons can be found, the administration's policy has been one of "hands off" and "it's someone else's problem." With a gathering storm around us, the report, written by former Defense secretary William Perry and other national security experts, details that the administration has done far too little to confront this clear and present threat.

Weapons on the loose

The administration has allowed a situation where both terrorists such as Osama bin Laden and the nuclear materials they seek are on the loose. It is only a matter of time before they find one another. The reality of this peril is not fiction.

Al-Qaeda's captured operations chief has told interrogators that the terrorist network has the ability to obtain nuclear material. Bin Laden has obtained a fatwa from a Saudi cleric providing a justification for the murder of 10 million American "infidels" with a nuclear weapon. And CIA Director Porter Goss has testified that al-Qaeda might already possess radioactive material.

When the threat is this great, it is not enough to list the ways the Bush administration has been letting America down. We need to show a way to move to a real policy of national security and strength.

Democrats propose a three-part plan:

• First, track down and secure loose nuclear weapons and material. Russia alone has enough usable material for 80,000 nuclear weapons, and less than half of its nuclear weapons and materials have been protected from theft. We need to move from a policy of assistance to a partnership so that Americans and Russians work together on a plan against this common threat.

• Second, stop nations such as North Korea and Iran, which on President Bush's watch have greatly expanded nuclear programs, from joining up with the evil ideology of al-Qaeda.

Lost ground

In the past three years, North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicked out the international inspectors monitoring its nuclear activities, and claimed to have reprocessed fuel rods yielding enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons. Iran is working on processes that can produce fuel for nuclear weapons. And neither regime has shown much hesitation in working with terrorists.

Yet, with both Iran and North Korea, the Bush administration has sat by for years and let others deal with the threat. We can no longer outsource national security to the European Union or nations such as China.

We propose a program of "carrots" combined with an old-fashioned, American "big stick." That means pursuing diplomacy and trying to convince these nations to act in their own best interests. But it also means backing that up with a real commitment to use whatever form of pressure is most likely to produce results.

• Third, if Iran and North Korea continue on their course, their actions could set off a nuclear arms race in the world's two most dangerous regions - the Middle East and Asia. This highlights the need to revitalize the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for a new century to account for new technology and new terrorist networks that operate without direct ties to any nation. The threat of terrorists unleashing a nuclear strike on an American city is here, and it is all too real.

The Bush administration needs to do far more to guard the USA from a nuclear attack. The president's words point in the right direction, but it is deeds that the times - and these threats - demand.

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