U.S., Russia Sign Nuclear Arms Pact

Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sealed a new nuclear arms reduction treaty during a phone call this morning, committing the two nations to a significant new reduction of the strategic missiles each side has deployed, U.S. officials announced Friday.

Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama announced the agreement to reporters at the White House, calling it a historic step toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama called nuclear weapons “the darkest days of the Cold War, and the most troubling threats of our time.” He hailed the treaty as the start of a new effort to rid the world of that threat. “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,” he said. (Washington Post)

After speaking with Medvedev, Obama said he will travel to Prague on April 8 to sign the treaty with the Russian leader, noting that the historic event will come just a week before he hosts a summit in Washington on how to control the spread of nuclear material around the world.

He also praised what he said was an improving relationship with Russia. “We have turned words into action. We have made progress that is clear and concrete,” Obama said. “And we have demonstrated the importance of American leadership — and American partnership — on behalf of our own security, and the world’s.” (Washington Post)

The White House is hailing the treaty as a “landmark agreement [that] advances the security of both nations and reaffirms American and Russian leadership on behalf of nuclear security and global non-proliferation.” (CBC) It will also “reset” relations between the two countries, a focus of Obama since he took office in 2009.

“When the United States and Russia can co-operate effectively, it advances the mutual interests of our two nations, and the security and prosperity of the wider world,” Obama said Friday. (CBC)

In Russia, Medvedev’s spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, told the Interfax news agency, “This treaty reflects the balance of interests of both nations.”

Details of the Treaty

The treaty, which must be ratified by the U.S. Senate and Russia’s legislature, would replace a 19-year-old pact that called for both countries to draw down their dangerous arsenals of thousands of long-range nuclear weapons.

The new deal took shape after months of negotiations that stretched on far longer than officials had expected. The 1991 START treaty expired in early December of last year, forcing the presidents of both countries to pledge they would abide by its parameters until a new treaty could be forged.

The treaty calls for both sides to reduce the stockpiles of their most dangerous weapons — those already deployed and ready to launch at long-range targets — by about 30 percent, allowing each side to retain about 1,550 such warheads.

It also limits deployed and non-deployed missile launchers and heavy bombers to 800 and says that each side may only have 700 of such equipment already deployed — a cut in half from the limits in the previous treaty.

The White House said the treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned missile defences. The U.S. has a missile defence system based mainly in the U.S., and it is planning one in Europe.

The treaty also does not impose limits on planned U.S. long-range non-nuclear missiles, the White House said.

Administration officials described the achievement as a hard-fought victory in Obama’s efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. In a speech in Prague last year, Obama pledged that the United States would lead by negotiating the new treaty with Russia.

Russia had sought to include limits on current and planned U.S. missile defences in the treaty.

Reactions to the Treaty

But the deal faces skepticism in the Senate, where it will need Republican support to get the 67 votes required for ratification. Several key GOP senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have recently expressed concerns about the treaty’s impact on the U.S. missile defenses program.

In a statement, McConnell said GOP senators would be looking to see if the new agreement is verifiable, whether it reduces the U.S.’s ability to defend itself and whether the U.S. will be able to continue to rely on launching nuclear weapons from the air, sea and land.

Clinton and other top officials expressed confidence that the Senate will ratify the treaty despite the highly charged, partisan environment in the wake of the health-care debate. “I don’t believe that this ratification effort will be affected by anything other than individual senators’ assessment of whether this is in the national security interests of the United States,” Clinton told reporters after Obama’s remarks. Clinton said that she and Gates have begun briefing lawmakers and will testify before Congress in the coming days. She said the issue is “way beyond politics” for the country. (Washington Post)

Ratification of the treaty will require 67 votes, or two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Clinton, when later asked whether such a margin could be achieved given the recent fierce partisan battles and close votes over health care, said it could. “National security has always produced large bipartisan majorities, and I see no reason why this should be any different,” she said. “The vast majority of senators will see that this is about America’s national interest, it’s not about politics.” (CBC)

She acknowledged that Medvedev will have to get his Duma to ratify the treaty as well and joked that Obama had offered to send his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to Russia to help secure passage. “We all immediately endorsed that offer,” Clinton said of the famously rough-hewn Emanuel, prompting laughter in the room, which was filled with State Department, White House and National Security officials. (Washington Post)

In Moscow, the Kremlin, the government of the Soviet Union, hailed the accord. “The presidents agreed that the new treaty marks a higher level of cooperation between Russia and the United States in the development of new strategic relations,” a Kremlin statement said. (New York Times)

The Kremlin statement on Friday suggested that Russia would continue to push for a formal missile defence treaty. “The status of the interconnection between strategic offensive and strategic defensive weapons will be registered in a legally binding form, as well as the growing significance of this relationship in the process of reducing strategic nuclear weapons,” it said. (New York Times)

Nikolai Sokov, a former Soviet arms negotiator now at the Monterrey Institute of International Studies in California, said the new pact was “both modest and essential” to more lasting accomplishments. “So much effort has been spent in the last several months that there is a tendency to see it as a major step forward,” he said. “I think 10 years from now, we will see it for what it is – a small bridge treaty, without which subsequent, much bigger achievements would not have been possible.” (New York Times)

Still, the fact that they were able to reach an agreement was a step forward for both countries. When the two presidents spoke on the phone Friday, according to an official briefed on the call, they congratulated themselves on breaking through the mistrust. “If you want something done right…” Mr. Medvedev said in English. Mr. Obama finished his thought: “You do it yourself.” (New York Times)

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