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Kerry warns of nuclear terrorism

Pledges to appoint coordinator to round up weapons

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CNN's Candy Crowley on John Kerry's nuclear-terrorism proposal.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Bush and Iraq's leadership.

CNN's Jeff Greenfield on what turned out to be a non-story.

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John F. Kerry
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WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (CNN) -- John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, accused the Bush administration Tuesday of ignoring the threat of terrorism using nuclear weapons.

Kerry went on to promise to boost U.S. efforts to cut off the supply of nuclear materials if elected.

"We know how to reduce this threat. We know how to achieve this goal. And with the right leadership, we can achieve it quickly," Kerry told supporters at the Port of Palm Beach in Riviera Beach.

Kerry said that since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has not stepped up efforts to secure radioactive material around the world that could be used to build a nuclear bomb.

In some cases, he said, U.S. spending has even declined in real dollars.

"We have done too little, often too late, and we have even cut back on our efforts or turned away from the greatest threat that we face in this world today -- a terrorist armed with nuclear weapons," he said.

Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, said the issue would be his No. 1 priority as president.

He proposed speeding up programs to secure nuclear material from countries of the former Soviet Union, pledging to appoint a national coordinator carry out that task.

He further proposed stopping the production of new weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, reducing current stocks of nuclear weapons and cutting off Pentagon plans to develop new, low-yield nuclear weapons.

"We also don't need a world with more usable nuclear weapons," he said. "We need a world where terrorists can never find one, make one or use one."

President Bush's re-election campaign said efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons "continues to be an urgent priority" for the White House.

The campaign cited American leadership of the Proliferation Security Initiative, Libya's decision to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and the exposure of Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan's traffic in nuclear technology.

Republican Rep. Porter Goss of Florida, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called Kerry's speech a "belated, me-too approach."

"I also think it's unrealistic and dangerously naive to assume that we're going to get all the nukes in a lockbox somehow," Goss said.

"I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. The effort is worthwhile, but I don't think you're ever going to get 100 percent."

Kerry's speech referred to "that dark day in September" and the possibility of a "looming mushroom cloud on the horizon," echoing the rhetoric Bush administration officials used in the months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Kerry said the war in Iraq has distracted the United States from two greater nuclear threats: North Korea and Iran, the other two countries Bush branded an "axis of evil" in 2002.

Kerry called the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran "unacceptable," and said the Bush administration is "negotiating over the shape of the table" with North Korea while that nation continues to build atomic bombs it could sell to terrorists.

He said the United States should continue the current six-party talks with Pyongyang's neighbors, "but we must also be prepared to talk directly with North Korea.

"This problem is too urgent to allow China or others at the table to speak for us," he said.

Regarding Iran, which says it needs nuclear power to meet civilian energy needs, Kerry said the United States should "call their bluff" by offering to supply nuclear fuel while taking back spent fuel that could be diverted to build nuclear weapons.

The Bush campaign said the administration has put pressure on North Korea and Iran through U.S. allies in Europe and Asia.

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