Britain insists Pounds 25bn Trident programme 'not on the table' in March meeting
Barack Obama has called a global summit on reducing the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons which could eventually result in Britain's Trident system being scaled back.
The US President told G8 leaders at their meeting in Italy yesterday that between 20 and 30 nations would be invited to the non- proliferation summit in Washington next spring. He hopes to build on his successful disarmament talks held on Monday with the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev.
The US-led initiative could pave the way for the world to warn Iran and North Korea that they would be treated as "pariah states" unless they stop developing nuclear weapons. The burden of proof would be on countries that are not yet members of the nuclear club to show they had not breached the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, raising the prospect of attempts to send weapons inspectors in if they refused to comply.
Britain will take part in the Washington summit. British officials insisted that Trident would not be "on the table" in March, but confirmed it could eventually form part of the talks if they resulted in a process of multilateral disarmament. They played down the chances of the 25bn Trident programme being axed as part of a drive to cut public spending, saying the "fixed costs" of the four submarines which carry the weapons accounted for the bulk of the budget, so reducing the number of warheads would not save much.
Gordon Brown will publish Britain's proposals for a historic "new deal on nuclear security" in the world in the next few days. He has told Mr Obama that he believes there is a chance of securing a trade- off under which countries promise not to develop nuclear weapons in return for help with developing civil nuclear power.
The Prime Minister told journalists: "Iran is attempting to build a nuclear weapon. North Korea is attempting to build a nuclear weapon. We have got to show we can deal with this by collective action.
"Unilateral action by the United Kingdom would not be seen as the best way. What we need is collective action by the nuclear weapons powers to say that we are prepared to reduce our nuclear weapons, but we need assurances also that other countries …