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Kerry Details Nuclear Material Safeguards

Times Staff Writer

Warning that “shadowy figures may someday have their finger on a nuclear button,” Sen. John F. Kerry outlined a plan Tuesday that he said would make America safer by reducing terrorists’ access to the components of nuclear weapons.

The Massachusetts senator said the Bush administration has dragged its feet in protecting the nation from the threat of nuclear terrorism by withholding resources from existing programs designed to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union.

“If we secure all bomb-making materials, ensure that no new materials are produced for nuclear weapons and end nuclear weapons programs in hostile states like North Korea and Iran, we can and will dramatically reduce the possibility of nuclear terrorism,” Kerry said during his 17th trip to Florida.

In addition, the presumptive Democratic nominee charged that Bush has been “fixated” on Iraq while ignoring threats elsewhere. The government has secured less bomb-making material in the two years after terrorists struck on Sept. 11, he said, than it did in the two years leading up to the attacks.

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While Kerry has not put a price tag on the effort, advisors estimated the cost to be about $30 billion over four years, of which half would be paid by American allies.

Components of the plan include:

* Safeguarding nuclear materials worldwide within four years by making the effort a cornerstone of U.S.-Russian relations.

* Negotiating a global ban on the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium used to create nuclear weapons.

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* Ending U.S. production of so-called bunker-busting nuclear weapons and mini-nuclear devices.

* Making the end of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program a top priority by continuing multinational negotiations.

* Appointing a presidential coordinator to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Many of the components of his plan would simply bolster and speed existing efforts.

Republicans on Tuesday noted that the leaders of the top industrial nations -- the so-called Group of 8 which includes President Bush -- declared a year ago that weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism constitute “the preeminent threat to international security.”

Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) called Kerry’s plan “pretty much a belated, me-too approach.” In a conference call arranged by the Bush campaign, the chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee said that the “proliferation of nuclear weapons is not a new subject.... “

But Kerry advisor Graham Allison argued Tuesday that, while the Bush administration “has learned to name a program for every problem,” the president’s efforts toward nuclear nonproliferation are characterized by “an absence of urgency.”

“Where do we stand now as compared to where we stood when the Bush administration took office?” asked Allison, who served as assistant secretary of Defense in the first Clinton administration. “We’ve either been plodding along at a snail’s pace or gone backward, way backward.”

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Kerry’s address here was the second of three major policy speeches focusing on national security which he plans to deliver during an 11-day campaign swing. He kicked off the trip last week in Seattle by outlining his framework for addressing national security matters.

He is set to discuss his plan to modernize the military on Thursday in Independence, Mo.

During the Democratic primary season, Kerry spoke regularly about the need to stop U.S. efforts to build bunker-busting bombs. He also talked frequently about the need for the United States to buy up Russian stockpiles of loose nuclear materials.


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