WASHINGTON - President Bush argued yesterday that current nonproliferation rules did not stop a Pakistani scientist from selling nuclear secrets on the black market and called for tougher standards, including a ban on the sale of nuclear materials and equipment to countries that do not submit to international inspections.
"The greatest threat before humanity today is the possibility of secret and sudden attack with chemical or biological or radiological or nuclear weapons," Bush told an audience at the National Defense University.
In addition to calling on countries receiving nuclear materials to be open to inspection, Bush said countries should criminalize the black-market sale of nuclear material and equipment, as well as use joint law enforcement efforts to track down and stop proliferators. Bush called on more countries to contribute to an international fund set up to secure nuclear materials and equipment and to find other lines of work for nuclear scientists in former Soviet states.
The president praised the international cooperation established by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"But the treaty has a loophole which has been exploited by nations such as North Korea and Iran," Bush said. "These regimes are allowed to produce nuclear material that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programs."
Bush said nuclear nations should agree to help other countries get atomic energy only if they agree to renounce the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"Proliferators must not be allowed to cynically manipulate the NPT to acquire the material and infrastructure necessary for manufacturing illegal weapons," Bush said.
The president's remarks were generally welcomed by those who have been working to stop proliferation, but they argued that the United States should have been doing more all along to end the black-market sale of dangerous materials.
"We have a real gap between our words and our deeds," said Charles Curtis, president and chief operating officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on nonproliferation.
Bush described in detail how Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was able to steal nuclear materials and equipment from his country and sell them to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Khan, considered the father of his country's nuclear weapons program, admitted last week to his involvement in the nuclear black market. But Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the scientist is still his "hero" and pardoned him.
Bush did not condemn that pardon in his speech, nor did he call for Khan to face international punishment.
Bush said countries that are being investigated for violating nonproliferation rules should not be permitted to serve on the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors.
"The integrity and mission of the IAEA depends on this simple principle: Those actively breaking the rules should not be entrusted with enforcing the rules," the president said.
Bush has made it clear that the central theme of his re-election campaign will be his administration's work to fight terrorism and make the country safer.
"Over the last two years, a great coalition has come together to defeat terrorism and to oppose the spread of weapons of mass destruction - the inseparable commitments of the war on terror," Bush said. "We've shown that proliferators can be discovered and can be stopped. We've shown that for regimes that choose defiance, there are serious consequences."
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat running for president, said Bush should have been working harder earlier to end proliferation.
"President Bush said today that Sept. 11 'raised the prospect of even worse dangers of other weapons in the hands of other men,'" Kerry said. "He's mistaken. Those threats existed in North Korea, the former Soviet Union and Iran the day this administration took office, and the administration's rigid ideology, resistance to multilateralism, and fixation with Iraq stopped the president from addressing them in concert with our allies."