The Cable

U.S., Russia to update plutonium disposal deal

In another example of small accomplishments being rolled out during this week's nuclear summit, the United States and Russia are planning a ceremony to mark the update of a plutonium disposal agreement that was originally agreed to 10 years ago.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will sign an "amendment" to what's known as the U.S.-Russia Plutonium Disposition Agreement Tuesday on the side of President Obama's ongoing Nuclear Security Summit.

The original agreement was signed toward the end of Bill Clinton's administration in 2000 by then Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Both sides agreed to destroy 34 metric tons of plutonium. But the agreement never went into force due to disputes about the international funding assistance Russia said it needed for implementation.

The agreement "is very significant in the sense that over a period of a decade or so it will remove very large quantities of weapons-useable materials, and also it's an agreement that's been long stalled," the National Security Council's Gary Samore said on an April 9 conference call. "It was really President Obama's focus on this issue and the reset of his relationship with Russia that has finally been able to finalize this agreement."

The United States will spend $400 million to transform the Russian plutonium involved under the deal, nuclear expert Matthew Bunn told the Irish Times.  

"This signing represents a major and essential step toward enabling full implementation of our two countries' obligation to safely and transparently dispose of such excess weapon-grade plutonium, enough material for several thousand nuclear weapons," the State Department said in a statement.

The Cable

Ukraine to remove uranium stocks, White House says

Following the first ever meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and newly minted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, the two sides announced that Ukraine will give up its stores of highly enriched uranium (HEU).

It's not the first victory for the Obama administration at this week's Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, which hasn't even officially started yet. Kazakhstan Sunday agreed to allow the U.S. planes direct overflight of its territory for military equipment headed to Afghanistan.

But it is the first in what State Department sources say will be a series of announcements by countries on steps they will take unilaterally to address the threat that the summit was convened to address: the risk of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands.

Yushchenko congratulated Obama on the signing of the "New START" nuclear reductions treaty with Russia. Ukraine was instrumental in implementing the old START treaty, at least since 1994 when the country agree to give up its nuclear weapons.

Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European Affairs, was in the Obama-Yushchenko meeting, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Ukraine will get rid of all its HEU by 2012 and convert all of its facilities to operate with low-enriched uranium.

"This is something that the United States has tried to make happen for more than 10 years," he said. "The material is enough to construct several nuclear weapons."

Take a look at the White House's fact sheet on the announcement here (pdf).