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At Nuclear Summit, Ukraine Questions Dominate The Day


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

President Obama wrapped up a two-day nuclear security summit in The Hague today. He's been operating on two tracks on this trip. At the summit, he's been urging countries to get rid of their nuclear material. On the sidelines, he's been organizing the global community to isolate Russia, following it's annexation of Crimea.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president and joins us now from The Hague. And, Ari, the president and the Dutch prime minister held a joint press conference this afternoon. What was the headline?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It tells you something about this press conference, Audie, that that not a single question was about nuclear the nuclear summit, which was the premise of it. The biggest topic, of course, was Ukraine. We've seen a shift in the last couple of days here among the 50-plus world leaders, who now seem to agree that if Russia keeps behaving aggressively, countries will move ahead on broad sanctions against Russia, perhaps in sectors including energy, defense and finance. This would be a change for the sanctions we've seen so far, which were targeted at individuals.

Now, sanctions that broad would undoubtedly impact the global economy. And that this press conference, President Obama reiterated that he hopes Russia still chooses the path of diplomacy and de-escalation. But with Russia seeming increasingly isolated right now, countries are looking to the next step, figuring out how to design broader sanctions so they would hurt Russia as much as possible, and backfire on these other leading countries as little as possible.

CORNISH: And you said Russia looks increasingly isolated coming out of this meeting. And yet, Russia is building up forces along the border with Ukraine. What did President Obama have to say about that?

SHAPIRO: He described it as a sign of Russian weakness, not strength. He called Russia, and this is a quote, "a regional power threatening some of its immediate neighbors." Listen to part of his remarks here.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don't need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.

SHAPIRO: He also pointed out that Russia has less support today than it did during most of the 20th century. There's not a communist bloc supporting its actions. And that at this moment, Russia really does stand almost entirely alone on the world stage.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Ari, another issue that came up, NSA surveillance. This on a day that The New York Times broke a story about the retention of phone records. And what did the president have to say about this?

SHAPIRO: Well, you remember there has been a process under way looking at how best to balance security and privacy. A presidential panel had recommended taking these massive databases of phone records away from the NSA, giving them to a third-party instead. And at the time, President Obama said he had some concerns about that plan. Well, now it looks like he has resolved those concerns.

Today, he said the intelligence community has presented him with an option that he thinks is workable. He said this proposal takes care of concerns about the government storing bulk data. And he said this new plan will also have more judicial oversight. He did not go into a lot of detail about what the plan looks like but we expect to hear more from him about that in the coming days.

CORNISH: And in the time we have left, Ari, the original purpose of this summit, of course, nuclear arms control. What was accomplished?

SHAPIRO: Well, President Obama pointed to a few items. There was a big new commitment from Japan getting rid of nuclear material; and Italy and Belgium made announcements that they have fulfilled commitments they made a couple of years ago. But Russia remains one of the biggest nuclear forces in the world. And it's totally unclear right now whether Russia will keep cooperating, given the situation in Ukraine.

Keep in mind that this initiative is something the President Obama announced his first year in office. He has really driven this train and the end is now in sight. Two years from now, the U.S. will host the last of these four nuclear security summits, just before Obama leaves office. And in his concluding remarks at the summit today, the president urged world leaders to accelerate towards that finish line until they all meet again in 2016.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro, reporting from The Hague. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.