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Nuclear fears in focus at Ukraine peace summit

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BURGENSTOCK, Switzerland – The international Ukraine peace summit was to focus Sunday on food security, avoiding a nuclear disaster and returning deported children from Russia as countries outlined building blocks towards ending the war.

More than two years after Russia invaded, leaders and top officials from more than 90 states were spending the weekend at a Swiss mountainside resort for a landmark two-day summit dedicated to resolving the largest European conflict since World War II.

After world leaders stood together to offer their support on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced hope of garnering international agreement around a proposal to end the war that he could eventually present to Moscow.

“We must decide together what a just peace means for the world and how it can be achieved in a lasting way,” Zelenskyy told assembled leaders at the luxury Burgenstock retreat overlooking Lake Lucerne.

The summit, snubbed by Russia and its ally China, comes as Ukraine is struggling on the battlefield, where it is outmanned and outgunned.

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded Ukraine’s effective surrender as a basis for peace talks.

Putin’s call for Ukraine to withdraw from the south and east of the country were widely dismissed at the summit.

The talks are framed around areas of common ground between Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan presented in late 2022, and UN resolutions on the war that passed with widespread support.

The tight remit was an attempt to garner the broadest support by sticking firmly on topics covered by international law and the United Nations charter.

Countries were to break out into three working groups on Sunday looking at nuclear safety and security, humanitarian issues, and food security and freedom of navigation on the Black Sea.

The session on humanitarian aspects will focus on issues around prisoners of war, civil detainees, internees and the fate of missing persons.

It will also discuss the repatriation of children taken from occupied Ukrainian territory into Russia.

“We have seen around 20,000 Ukrainian children effectively abducted from their families, community and country. How terrifying a thing is that to say, and how can the world turn its back on that?” Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris told reporters.

“When did it become acceptable for children to be a weapon of war? It is utterly illegal and morally repugnant.

“This is the stealing of children and it’s about time the international community calls it out, and I for one intend to do that.”

Ireland and 27 other countries are focusing on this strand, including Canada, Chile, Colombia, Georgia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Qatar, Rwanda and Saudi Arabia.

Talks on food security will examine the slump in agricultural production and exports, which has had a ripple effect across the world as Ukraine was one of the world’s breadbaskets before the war.

The 30 countries in this working group include Brazil, Britain, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Kenya, South Korea, Spain, Thailand and Turkey.

Talks will look at not only the destruction of fertile land through military operations but also the ongoing risks posed by mines and unexploded ordnance.

“Finding a political solution in Ukraine remains crucial to stabilizing food prices on the world market,” host Switzerland said.

Artillery attacks on ships in the Black Sea have driven up the cost of maritime transport.

“Ensuring free and safe shipping on the Black Sea would not only strengthen food security in many low-income countries, but also restore stability in the region,” Switzerland said.

The nuclear safety group will look at the fragile situation surrounding the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, notably Zaporizhzhia, where all of the reactors have been shut down since mid-April.

Talks will hone in on reducing the risk of an accident resulting from a malfunction or an attack on Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.

“I am ready to participate in the discussion about nuclear safety because this is really a big threat to our security,” said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

Thirty countries will participate in this strand, including Argentina, Australia, France, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States.

Minds are also turning to a potential second summit, at which Ukraine wants to present Russia with an internationally-agreed plan for peace.

Zelenskyy did not say whether he was prepared to engage with Putin directly in talks to end the conflict, though he has in the past ruled out direct talks with him.

“Russia should join this process because Russia is responsible for the starting of the process that’s called the war,” Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili told reporters.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said Moscow could join the next summit “if we go in the good direction and the conditions are right”.

But Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani said Putin is “not interested in peace. President Putin stands for everything that is against peace, against stability and against good neighborly relations.”

Others, however, warned Ukraine it would need to make difficult compromises if it wanted to end the war, and the range of positions hinted at the difficulty Kyiv faces in securing an agreement.

“Any credible process will need Russia’s participation,” Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud said.


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