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United States President Barack Obama warned on Tuesday that the world must act, not simply talk about securing nuclear materials that extremists could fashion into a bomb to kill hundreds of thousands of people, Agence France Presse reports.

In excerpts of remarks he was due to make to a 47-nation nuclear security summit, Obama said leaders must make a historic decision to safeguard their people from what he billed as the world's greatest security threat.

'Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history - the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up,' Obama said in the excerpts.

'Terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon, and if they ever succeed, they would surely use it.

'Were they to do so, it would be a catastrophe for the world - causing extraordinary loss of life, and striking a major blow at global peace and stability.

'Today is an opportunity, not simply to talk, but to act.

'Not simply to make pledges, but to make real progress for the security of our people.

'All this, in turn, requires something else, something more fundamental. It requires a new mindset - that we summon the will, as nations, as partners, to do what this moment in history demands.'

According to Reuters, some nations are sceptical about the seriousness of the threat, however, and view it as an American preoccupation after al Qaeda's attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.