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Barack Obama’s speech in Prague, five years on

in World News

U.S. president drew some 20,000 to hear him speak at Prague Castle in 2009

Tomorrow, five years ago, then–newly inaugurated U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on Hradčany Square in front of Prague Castle, where he laid out his vision of a world without nuclear weapons to a crowd of some 20,000.

On April 5, 2009, the first black president of the United States stood just a few feet away from the statue of Czechoslovakia’s first president, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (whose name he mispronounced slightly as “Ma-sah-rick”) — a photo of the two of them “in conversation,” taken by Slovak photojournalist Joe Klamar, would end up winning the Czech Press Photo’s 2009 award for Photo of the Year.

It was Obama’s first visit to the Czech Republic (he would visit one more time, to sign the New START arms reduction treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010) and formed part of his first European trip as president.

In his speech, transcribed below in its entirety, Obama said the world had come a long way in the previous few years, and what was once almost unthinkable — be it a black president of the United States or a union of European nations led by representatives from Prague — had become a reality, and the U.S. president expressed the same hope to counter those who may think a world without nuclear weapons is just a fantasy.

At the time of Obama’s speech, the Czech Republic was halfway through its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union, even though the governing Civic Democrats (ODS) had failed to win a confidence vote less than two weeks earlier, and the government was already on its way out by the time Obama arrived in Prague.

Obama spoke at length about the threat of the nuclear stockpiles that have remained, and in some countries even grown, since the end of the Cold War, and he said his administration would “aggressively pursue ratification of the [Comprehensive Nuclear-] Test-Ban Treaty.”

The CTBT bans nuclear explosions of any kind for any purpose, and while the United States signed the treaty 1996, the country had not yet ratified the treaty when Obama came to Prague nearly 13 years later.

Five years after Obama’s Prague speech, his country’s ratification of the treaty remains elusive, although 14 other nations have since sprinted past the United States, including Indonesia and Iraq, to ratify the CTBT. The Obama administration is expected to up the pressure on the U.S. Congress, which is the legislative body tasked with ratification, when it hosts the biennial Nuclear Security Summit in 2016.

In March 2013, in cooperation with the United States, the Czech Republic got rid of the last of its nuclear weapons-grade uranium — enough for two nuclear weapons — and thereby became the 11th country to successfully eliminate its highly enriched uranium.

The video below, from April 2013, provides an inside look at the Czech Republic’s removal of this material, as well as a list of the countries that had yet to eliminate their own. Subsequently, in July and November 2013, Vietnam and Hungary, respectively, had their nuclear material removed with the help of the United States, leaving Uzbekistan as the sole country left on the list to do so.

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