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Obama, Medvedev Agree On Landmark Nuclear Arms Reduction Pact

  • Andrew Tully

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in July 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama (right) with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in July 2009

WASHINGTON -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, today spoke by telephone to conclude almost a year of negotiations on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty.

During a televised news briefing at the White House, Obama said the agreement, which will see both countries slash the number of deployed nuclear warheads by more than a quarter, achieves one of his primary goals as president.

"Since taking office, one of my highest national security priorities has been addressing the threat posed by nuclear weapons to the American people,” Obama said. “And that's why last April in Prague I stated America's intention to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, a goal that has been embraced by presidents like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan."

Obama said he and Medvedev will meet to sign the treaty in the Czech capital on April 8, almost a year to the day since the speech.

The new agreement, named "Measures to Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms," replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

According to the White House, the new treaty requires both countries, over 10 years, to reduce their deployed strategic warheads from their current 2,200 to 1,550, and to dramatically reduce the number of intercontinental missile launchers.

"The new START treaty makes progress in several areas,” Obama said. “It cuts -- by about a third -- the nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia will deploy. It significantly reduces missiles and launchers. It puts in place a strong and effective verification regime. And it maintains the flexibility that we need to protect and advance our national security, and to guarantee our unwavering commitment to the security of our allies."

Results Beyond Russia

The new treaty will have no effect on U.S. missile-defense plans. Both former President George W. Bush and Obama angered Moscow with separate plans to place defensive missile installations in Eastern Europe.

Both sides had hoped to complete negotiations before the original START treaty expired on December 5, but that deadline passed without agreement. Most of the verification mechanisms remained in effect, however, as it became clear that a successor treaty was just weeks away.

Obama said the effects of the treaty will be felt beyond Russia and the United States, potentially becoming a guarantor of global security by keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue regimes and terrorists.

"With this agreement, the United States and Russia -- the two largest nuclear powers in the world -- also send a clear signal that we intend to lead,” Obama said. “By upholding our own commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities."

Both the U.S. Senate and Russian Duma must ratify the treaty for it to come into force. The Duma is expected to do so, in time, but passage by the U.S. Senate is not assured.

The Democrats and the Republicans are deeply polarized and have fundamental differences on how to approach national security. Nevertheless, Obama said he looks forward to working with the Senate to get the treaty ratified. In a plug for bipartisanship, he noted that reducing and safeguarding stockpiles of nuclear weapons has been the goal of several previous U.S. presidents, including Democrat John Kennedy and Republican Ronald Reagan.

‘Higher Level’ Of Cooperation

Obama also said the deal demonstrates that his administration is succeeding in its diplomatic "reset" of relations with Russia.

Those ties have suffered over the past decade, despite former President Bush's self-professed close friendship with Vladimir Putin, Medvedev's predecessor and now Russia's prime minister.

"Since I took office I have been committed to a 'reset' of our relations with Russia,” Obama said. “When the United States and Russia can cooperate effectively, it advances the mutual interests of our two nations, and the security and the prosperity of the wider world.”

“We have so far already worked together on Afghanistan,” he continued. “We have coordinated our economic efforts through the G-20. We are working together to pressure Iran to meet its international obligations. And today, we have reached agreement on one of my administration's top priorities -- a pivotal new arms control agreement."

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the treaty demonstrates what he calls a "higher level in the development of a new strategic relationship.”

“It will bear testimony to the continued commitment by both countries to reducing strategic offensive arsenals in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Lavrov said. “Both countries share the ultimate goal of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons."

Meanwhile, NATO is also looking to improve its cooperation with Moscow. On March 27 in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is expected to urge its members to make missile defense a priority. In an advance copy of the speech distributed to the media, he calls on alliance members to "use every opportunity to cooperate on this with Russia."

In his address, Rasmussen will point to what he calls a "real and growing" threat from weapons of mass destruction, and warn that if Iran successfully develops an arsenal of intermediate and intercontinental missiles, it could pose a threat to the entire European continent, including Russia.