The HAGUE - Thirty-five countries pledged Tuesday to step up nuclear security, backing a global drive spearheaded by US President Barack Obama to prevent dangerous materials falling into the hands of terrorists.

Wrapping up the third biennial Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), which gathered together 53 countries, Obama urged world leaders to work closer together to stop nuclear terrorism that he dubbed “the most immediate and extreme threat to global security”.

“It is important for us not to relax but rather accelerate our efforts over the next two years, sustain momentum so that we finish strong in 2016,” said the US leader, when he will host a return meeting.

“Given the catastrophic consequences of even a single attack, we cannot afford to be complacent,” he stressed.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, hosting the talks, said that ‘major steps’ had been taken in terms of the three main goals of the summit: reducing the amount of dangerous nuclear material; improving the security around this material and bolstering international cooperation on the nuclear issue.

And in a joint statement unveiled with much fanfare on the sidelines of the NSS, 35 of the 53 countries pledged to work closer together and submit to “peer reviews periodically” of their sensitive nuclear security regimes.

The nations - including Israel, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Turkey but not Russia - vowed to “realise or exceed” the standards set out in a series of guidelines laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to safeguard nuclear materials.

These are the “closest things we have to international standards for nuclear security”, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters as he presented the pledge.

But experts cautioned that the deal lacked teeth without the agreement of other powers with large nuclear stockpiles. “The absence of Russia, China, Pakistan and India - all nuclear weapons states with large amounts of nuclear material - as well as others, weakens the initiative’s impact,” said the Fissile Materials Working Group, a collection of more than 70 experts on the nuclear issue. According to the final statement, leaders will push to reduce stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, which can be used to make an atomic bomb, and convert it to safer lower enriched uranium.

Obama said leaders should consider transforming the current summit format to a more permanent body run by ministers and officials in order to “synch up the NSS with existing institutions like the IAEA, interpol.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the West’s failure to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression should not be seen as an invitation to other states to acquire nuclear weapons. Ukraine gave up its huge Soviet-era nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees from the West and Russia that its sovereignty would be safeguarded.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif  stressed constant vigilance and preparedness at the national level as well as international cooperation, which were necessary to strengthen the nuclear security. “Let me clarify that there is no such thing as ‘nuclear security fatigue’. Nuclear security is a continuous national responsibility,” he said in his opening remarks at the ‘Informal Plenary on the future of the Nuclear Security Summit’. He suggested that in the years to come, the states should maintain the political will and high level focus to advance the agenda of nuclear security.

“In future, while implementing our decisions, we have to strike a balance between confidentiality and openness; and steer away from both alarmism and complacency. Nuclear security must not fade off the leaders’ radar screens,” he maintained.

The prime minister expressed the pleasure that President Obama would be hosting the next NSS in 2016. “It is only fitting that this process, which was launched in the United States, is also concluded there. We know we cannot hold the summits in perpetuity,” he added.

He said in the past four years, three summits had made progress; and their next summit would cover fresh ground. “We have to look beyond the present process and the 2016.”

Nawaz also stressed the need to broaden participation in this process for widening its ownership to enhance its legitimacy.

It makes perfect sense that beyond 2016 the entire membership of the IAEA owns and upholds the decisions taken by the nuclear security summits, he opined. “In close consultation with the IAEA membership, we should dispel the impression that the NSS process is imposing new mandates on the agency.” He said, “As we go forward, we will have to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort. We are not creating parallel mechanisms or a new treaty regime.”

He said in post-2016, the focus should be on synergy and coordination among various components of the nuclear security architecture - which comprises the IAEA, the UN 1540 Committee, conventions on physical protection of nuclear material and the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism, and relevant international forums.

The IAEA could play a lead role on this in accordance with its statute, he added.

He said to take this step beyond 2016 it was prudent to devolve the process to a lower level, with the backing and continuing interest of leaders.

“The process, we envisage, could be supported by senior officials and experts. The exact cycle and scope of the follow-up process, led by the IAEA, could be discussed at the 2016 Summit,” he added.

The PM observed that in parallel, the IAEA’s three yearly nuclear security conferences would be a mean to sustain the present momentum.

Nawaz Sharif also had a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They discussed matters of mutual interest including bilateral trade. Sharif termed the meeting ‘productive’.

In an interaction with media persons following the meeting, the PM said he thanked the German Chancellor for her country’s support for Pakistan to get GSP Plus status. Merkel appreciated Pakistan’s efforts and contribution for ensuring peace in the region.