President Obama on Monday described Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., as a “rock star” when it comes to ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction.
Obama spoke at a symposium at the National Defense University in Washington where Lugar and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia received the Pentagon’s highest civilian award.
Lugar, who leaves the Senate this month after 36 years, and Nunn were presented the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service for their 20-year-old program that has deactivated or destroyed thousands of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union.
Later, Obama told Lugar: “Your legacy will endure in a safer and more secure world and a safer and more secure America. We pray that this nation produces more leaders with your sense of decency and civility and integrity. We are grateful to you.”
Obama recalled, “traipsing through nuclear weapons storage sites” with Lugar in 2005 in Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan as part of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. Obama at the time was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Lugar was the panel’s chairman.
“The more remote the place is and the more obscure the facility is, the bigger a rock star Dick Lugar is,” Obama said, drawing laughter from the audience. “I mean, you know, they love him in these places.”
His remarks were broadcast by the Pentagon’s website.
On a serious note, Obama said the Nunn-Lugar program is “one of the country’s smartest and most successful national security programs.” He called its creators “real visionaries” because “they challenged us to think anew, to imagine, after decades of confrontation, how our nations might engage in cooperation.”
Russia has indicated it will not renew Nunn-Lugar for a third time when the program expires next year. Obama vowed to press for an updated agreement “with Russia as an equal partner” as well as “create new partnerships.” He noted that his administration has increased funding for threat-reduction programs.
“Even as we make some very tough fiscal choices, we’re going to keep investing in these programs because national security depends on it,” Obama said. “After all, even with all your success, the thousands of missiles destroyed, bombers and submarines eliminated, the warheads that have been deactivated, we’re nowhere near done, not by a long shot, and you all know this. There is still much too much materiel – nuclear, chemical, biological – being stored without enough protection.”
In presenting medals to Lugar and Nunn, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said their program “has had a dramatic and enduring impact on global security.”
Lugar has received other awards in recent weeks:
•On Saturday, the Hoosier Environmental Council gave Lugar its inaugural Statesman Award at a ceremony at the University of Indianapolis. Lugar was honored for his work on environmental and conservation issues.
•In November, Lugar was recognized by the U.S.-Central Asia Enterprise Foundation and the public policy research group CNA.
Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, will replace Lugar in the Senate. Donnelly defeated state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the general election after Mourdock beat Lugar in the Republican primary election.