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McKeesport Area hosts student summit

Michael DiVittorio
| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 5:16 a.m.

McKeesport Area High School hosted the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh's International Student Summit on Thursday.

About 300 high school students participated, including those from 35 various Philadelphia area schools, as well as from Beaver; Cornell in Coraopolis; Del Valle, Texas; South Park; and National Dali Senior High School in Taiwan.

The summit program was split into two parts: “Loose Nukes: Facing the Threat of Nuclear Terrorism” and “A Closer Look at the Nuclear Deal with Iran.”

Via teleconference, the opening portion featured comments from U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Scranton; Foreign Policy Research Institute Templeton Fellow and co-chair of the Center for the Study of Terrorism Edward A. Turzanski; and Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow of the Center of 21st Century Security and Intelligence and director of research for the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.

McKeesport senior James Moller asked O'Hanlon about the United States' nuclear weapons in Belgium, citing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1968, enforced in 1970. He asked about the nuclear material recently stolen by thieves in Mexico. Identified as cobalt-60, the material reportedly was recovered by Mexican police earlier this month.

The treaty's objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, and to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and further achieve nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

O'Hanlon said the material in Mexico is not banned by the treaty, and is used quite often for medicine.

“We are under obligation, within reason, to try to help other countries use these technologies,” he replied. “Then you have to ask, ‘Is every other country going to be capable of securing the materials?' Everything from cobalt-60 to low-grade nuclear waste, and those are problematic and somewhat less worrisome, up to uranium-235 and plutonium and nuclear weapons themselves — these you cannot afford to make a mistake with. You cannot afford to lose track of them. It's easy to say. It's hard to do.”

The five countries allowed to have nuclear weapons, according to the treaty, are the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France.

All members of the United Nations have signed the treaty except for Israel, India and Pakistan, and they are believed to have nuclear weapons. North Korea has a nuclear program.

The United States built the first operational atomic weapon and is the only country to use the bomb in an act of warfare.

Moller said he is grateful for the opportunity to represent his school in asking the question, noting his interest in military activities came from his uncle, an Army sniper, and his grandfather, a Marine and Vietnam War veteran.

The second portion of the program featured National Iranian American Council research director Reza Marashi at McKeesport Area High School fielding questions from students of multiple school districts about the Iran conflict and a nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers that freezes key parts of its nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief of some economic sanctions.

The agreement was signed in November in Geneva's Palace of Nations, and requires Iran to halt or scale back parts of its nuclear infrastructure.

“It's quite literally a choice between war and diplomacy,” Marashi said.

McKeesport Area senior Devin Kocak asked Marashi why the United States should be concerned with Iran's nuclear development when Israel should be the country with great concern, and why would Iran want to attack the U.S.?

“Having more of the most dangerous weapons in the history of mankind is never a good thing,” Marashi responded. “It doesn't matter if it's Iran building (a nuclear bomb), the United States adding to its existing arsenal or anything in between. The more of them you have in the world, the greater the likelihood one gets used ... The United States, since the end of World War II, has been running the security, infrastructure or architecture in the Middle East. So we basically set up some rules of the game. ... The Iranians, since 1979, have been one of the handful of countries that have not been willing to play by the rules of the game we have set up.”

Marashi said he was encouraged by the students' participation and willingness to learn about domestic and foreign affairs.

“Because they're the future, it's all the more important to come talk to them and it actually makes it more enjoyable,” he said. “These kids understand a lot more than I did when I was their age. That gives me hope for the future. All I was trying to do was play basketball and video games when I was their age.”

McKeesport Area School District partnered with the World Affairs Councils of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3 to make Thursday's event possible.

McKeesport Area High School social studies teacher Robin Tyke is a member of the World Affairs Council's Pittsburgh branch and helped bring the summit to her school.

“I'm proud to do it here for our school,” she said. “I'm so glad we got to host it. For us to do it is really an honor. Our kids were chomping at the bit. They had tons of questions.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or

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