Vice presidential nominee John Edwards affirmed August 30 that the highest national security priority of a Kerry-Edwards administration will be to prevent nuclear terrorism. In a speech in Wilmington, North Carolina, Senator Edwards said that a Kerry-Edwards administration will make securing fissile material in Russia a top priority. Furthermore, they will lead efforts to close loopholes in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to end nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran, and work toward a global ban on the production of materials for nuclear weapons and toward establishing global standards to safeguard that material.

Senator Edwards emphasized the importance of U.S leadership in working with allies to meet this primary national security challenge. “ We will build strong alliances,” he said, adding that a Kerry-Edwards administration would “work with the world to meet our greatest threat -- terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction,” and to end the nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran.

The democratic vice presidential nominee acknowledged the urgency of securing fissile material in Russia in order to prevent nuclear terrorism. He said that an administration headed by John Kerry would secure that material by the end of a first term. Senator Edwards did not, however, provide specific details on how the nuclear material will be secured in four years, nor did he divulge how much money would be allocated for this effort. He did highlight a Nuclear Whistleblower Initiative that a Kerry administration will establish to provide safe haven for scientists willing to expose illicit weapons programs, in addition to strengthening policies to ensure nuclear scientists are employed for peaceful purposes.

On the critical challenge of closing loopholes in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran will be an urgent first test. In an interview with the Washington Post on August 29, Senator Edwards offered a proposal to resolve the escalating confrontation with Iran. He said a Kerry administration would engage Iran to diffuse the nuclear crisis, offering Tehran a “great bargain.” Under the terms of this bargain, Iran keeps its nuclear power plants, fueling them with internationally supplied non-weapons-grade nuclear fuel "on the condition that all the nuclear waste is taken back," he said. In return, Iran would give up its right to retain nuclear fuel production capabilities.

This approach echoes the policy recommended by the authors of Carnegie Endowment’s Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security. They call on the United States, Europe and Russia to devise “a combination of costs and incentives” to change course in Iran. In return for forswearing acquisition and operation of all fuel production capabilities, Universal Compliance authors state that Iran “should be guaranteed a commercially viable supply of Low Enriched Uranium for its nuclear reactors and for the removal and disposal of spent fuel.” The authors add that the international community should privately inform Iran of raised costs, if Tehran refuses to implement a complete suspension and eventual elimination of its fuel cycle capabilities.

In his Washington Post interview, Senator Edwards also added that if Iran refused to accept the bargain, it would provide an opportunity for the United States to persuade European allies to take a tougher line, noting that a Kerry administration would press the Europeans to do much more than "taking rewards away" if the Iranians failed to respond.

In Wilmington, Senator Edwards said a Kerry administration would offer policy that is “strong and smart.” “We will lead our allies more effectively,” he added, “using every tool in our arsenal.” Indeed, as the nuclear crisis with Iran escalates, it will require all the diplomatic skill and economic leverage at the disposal of the international community – with U.S. leadership and engagement. As Senator Edwards told the Post: “At the end of the day, we have to have some serious negotiating leverage in this discussion with the Iranians."