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Obama praises progress to secure nuclear materials

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 7:46 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Hailing two decades of efforts to help the former Soviet Union secure nuclear weapons stockpiles, President Obama said on Monday that the world must continue to stand guard against nuclear threats — including terrorists who seek to gain control of nuclear weapons.

“We cannot let our guard down,” Obama said, calling efforts to combat nuclear terrorism one of his top priorities as president.

Obama praised the 20-year-old Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which has provided billions of dollars in equipment and know-how to help Russia and former Soviet bloc nations safeguard and dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons.

The program, initiated by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., has helped deactivate more than 7,600 nuclear warheads.

Marking the program's 20th anniversary, Obama cited the “extraordinary progress” that's been made in securing nuclear materials and thanked Nunn and Lugar for their leadership.

In a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, the president called Nunn and Lugar “visionaries” who “challenged us to think anew” about ways to secure nuclear stockpiles produced during the Cold War.

The program Nunn and Lugar established provided reinforced rail cars to carry nuclear warheads, high-tech security systems for storage sites and helped pay for the dismantling of mothballed nuclear submarines and other weapons.

The program is set to expire this spring, and Russia has said it will not automatically extend it without a major overhaul.

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