PRAGUE — Casting
aside years of rancor, President Barack Obama and Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday signed the biggest nuclear arms pact in a
generation, lacing the moment with new warnings of sanctions for an
The treaty, sealed after months of halting
negotiation, is significant not just for what it does but for what it
symbolizes: a fresh start for the United States and Russia, and
evidence to a watching world that nuclear disarmament is more than a
The pact commits their nations to slash the number of
strategic nuclear warheads by one-third and more than halve the number
of missiles, submarines and bombers carrying them.
leaves the two countries with enough nuclear firepower to ensure mutual
destruction several times over, but the move sets a foundation for
deeper reductions, which both sides are already pursuing.
sends a signal around the world that the United States and Russia are
prepared to once again take leadership," Obama said moments after he
and Medvedev signed the treaty in a gleaming, ornate hall in the Czech
Republic's presidential castle.
Said the Russian president: "The entire world community has won."
pact will shrink the limit of nuclear warheads to 1,550 per country
over seven years, about a third less than the 2,200 currently permitted.
over the celebration was Iran, which in the face of international
pressures continues to assert that its uranium enrichment program is
for peaceful purposes, not for weapons as suspected. Six powers — the
US Russia, Britain, France, Germany and now China — are in talks in
New York about a fourth set of United Nations sanctions to pressure
Iran into compliance.
"We cannot turn a blind eye to this,"
Medvedev said in a show of solidarity. But he said he was frank with
Obama about how far Russia was willing to go, favoring only what he
called "smart" sanctions that might have hope of changing behavior.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov later elaborated by saying, for
example, that Russia would not endorse a total embargo on the delivery
of refined petroleum products into Iran. Such products might be
targeted in other ways, or sanctions on Iran's energy sector might be
avoided altogether to avoid running into deal-breaking opposition from
Russia or China.
The nuclear arms pact now faces a ratification
vote in the Russian legislature and the U.S. Senate. At home, Obama's
team is struggling to get the necessary votes, and the president
himself is directly involved. He said he was confident that Democrats
and Republicans would see that the treaty protects US interests — an
upbeat view of bipartisanship in a town where it's been scarce.
"I feel confident that we are going to be able to get it ratified," Obama said.
prospects of the treaty's ratification are still uncertain. Democratic
officials said they hoped the treaty could be ratified by the end of
the year, but that the timing of the debate would depend upon the
submission of technical documents accompanying the treaty.
treaty's ratification also would depend on Republican support, which
lawmakers were reluctant to extend just yet. While Democrats hold a
majority in the Senate, they are one vote shy of the 60 votes that are
often needed to overcome procedural hurdles during debate. And 67 votes
are needed to ratify the treaty.
Negotiations between the US
and Russia got bogged down in disputes, including Russia's objection to
US missile defense plans for Europe. The Kremlin is still concerned
about the plan but sought to tamp down talk it would withdraw from the
new treaty if there is a buildup in the missile defense system. Russia
codified its option to withdraw in a statement in connection with the
Obama said the treaty itself built trust that would help
in solving any differences on the issue. Responded Medvedev: "I am an
optimist as well as my American colleague. I believe that we will be
able to reach a compromise."
Beyond slashing nuclear arsenals,
the US sees the new "START" treaty, as it is known, as a key part of
efforts to reset ties with Russia, badly strained under the Bush
administration, and engage Moscow more in dealing with global
challenges, including the nuclear arsenal of North Korea and nuclear
ambitions of Iran.
The new pact is only part of the Obama
administration's new nuclear strategy. It was signed only days after
the White House announced a fundamental shift in its policy on the use
of nuclear weapons, calling the acquisition of atomic arms by
terrorists or rogue states a worse menace than the Cold War threat of
Other US nuclear initiatives will follow
the Prague signing. Leaders from more than 40 countries will gather in
Washington next week to discuss improvements in securing nuclear
The White House plans to lead calls for disarmament in
May at the United Nations during an international conference on
strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
signed Thursday is the most significant nuclear disarmament pact in a
generation, and Medvedev has lauded it as "an important step" in
disarmament and arms control efforts.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon welcomed the signing of the New START Treaty as a "milestone in
the international efforts to advance nuclear disarmament and to achieve
a world free of nuclear weapons," UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq
Russian analysts say Russia needs the deal to ease the
burden of replacing a large number of aging Soviet-built missiles.
"This treaty is in Russia's best interests," said Sergei Rogov, the
head of the USA and Canada Institute, an influential think tank.
the hall, the anticipated moment came as the two presidents picked up
their pens, glanced at each other and grinned as they signed several
documents, with aides transferring the papers back and forth so all
would have both signatures. When it was done, the leaders seemed
momentarily at a loss, with Medvedev flashing a smile and a shrug
before they stood to shake hands.
While the Russian parliament is
likely to follow the Kremlin's lead, the ratification process in the
US Senate could be troublesome. Fearing potential trouble, Moscow has
said that Russian lawmakers will synchronize their moves to ratify the
deal with the US legislators.
Sensitive to East European
concerns, Obama is tending to other business while in Prague — hosting
a dinner for leaders from 11 Central and Eastern European nations
formerly in or near Moscow's orbit, who worry about the Kremlin's
post-communist push for influence.
Under Obama, Russian
cooperation on key priorities, from helping to prevent a nuclear-armed
Iran to opening supply routes for the US military into Afghanistan
and agreeing to new arms reductions, has increased — though not by a