Kurchatov, Kazakhstan

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon offered strong support for President Barack Obama’s recently announced shift in America's nuclear position.

"For the first time, the United States expressly committed not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapons state who is in compliance with NPT, even if United States were attacked," said the head of the UN of the new U.S. policy. He called Obama's announcement "encouraging" and hopeful.

Ban Ki-moon also expressed his support for the follow-on START agreement, which is scheduled to be signed by Russians and Americans tomorrow, calling it a "a fresh start," and urged all nuclear states to work with the UN toward a "world free of nuclear weapons."

Following the secretary general's remarks, the secretary of state and foreign minister of Kazakhstan, Kanat Saudabayev, said, “Kazakhstan and its leader have been firmly committed to the goal of full nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.”

“Our president, like few other leaders, has the moral right to call on other leaders of the world to engage in nuclear disarmament,” Saudabayev said in reference to his nation’s past.

Kazakhstan gave up its nuclear weapons program, which it had inherited from the Soviets, upon independence in 1992. If it had retained its stockpile of nukes, it's thought that the little nation of Kazakhstan would have the second or third largest buildup, behind only the Russians and Americans. Kazakhstan gave up its nukes for myriad reasons, both strategic and moral, and has become an outspoken proponent of a nuclear free world.

The event took place at the Semipalitinsk testing site, what locals here call "ground zero." Semipalitinsk was home to 456 nuclear explosions for testing purposes conducted by the Soviets. The cumulative power of the tests that took place here roughly equals 800 times the nuclear force of the bomb used on Hiroshima. The testing site was used from 1947-1989, and officially closed on August 29, 1991.

"To realize a world free of nuclear weapons is the top priority of the United Nations," Ban Ki-moon said. The secretary general did not take questions. But I asked deputy director general of the IAEA Olli Heinomen what was being done to prevent Iran from going nuclear. He shrugged off my question, only saying, "We are in Kazakhstan now."

Next Page