Friday, April 9, 2010

President Obama to sign nuclear treaty with Russia

President Obama landed in Prague this morning to sign a treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons in a historic move for the former Cold War foes that marks a long-overdue diplomatic success for the American leader.

The ceremony at Prague Castle, the site of a speech by Mr. Obama a year ago about his desire for a world without nuclear bombs, also reflects the "resetting" of relations between Washington and Moscow and places Russia at the heart of future attempts to encourage other states to ditch atomic warheads.

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) — already delayed because of difficulties in negotiations — could yet be undermined, however, if either side fails to ratify the pact or if Russia chooses to exercise a right to withdraw unilaterally over concerns about American plans for a missile-defense shield in Europe.

Arriving in the Czech capital yesterday, Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, appeared committed to the agreement, which requires the two, former arch-enemies, which own 95 per cent of the world's nuclear weapons, to slash nuclear warheads by more than one-quarter and halve the number of launchers.

"The treaty is an important document on which the overall situation in nuclear disarmament depends to a great extent," President Medvedev said following a meeting with Vaclav Klaus, his Czech counterpart.

Amid tight security, the Russian leader is due to hold talks with Mr. Obama ahead of the midday signing ceremony at the medieval castle that overlooks Prague.

The bilateral discussion will focus on a US desire for a fourth round of sanctions on Iran, which the West believes is intent upon becoming the world's next nuclear power. Tehran insists its nuclear ambition is for civilian, energy needs.

Mr. Obama will again advocate a tougher stance against the Iranian regime at a two-day summit of 47 world leaders that he is due to host in Washington next week. That meeting will focus on stopping illicit trade in nuclear material and the need for stronger measures to protect vulnerable stockpiles.

It has been a busy few days for the American President on the nuclear front, coming on the back of a successful domestic battle over healthcare reform and giving his administration a new sense of confidence 14 months after taking office.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama unveiled a revamped nuclear strategy that for the first time declared the US would never use the bomb against a non-nuclear state provided it complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — a caveat that leaves Iran and North Korea still vulnerable to attack.

In a shift that is also reflected in the latest treaty with Moscow, the new policy also focuses on the spread of atomic weapons in vulnerable regions such as the Middle East and South-East Asia or to terrorists rather than outdated and far less plausible fears of a nuclear conflict with Russia.

The evolution of the threat underlines the need to cut inflated Russian and US stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which no longer serve any purpose other than to add to the risk of dangerous material falling into the wrong hands.

The new US-Russia pact, which replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired last December and represents the most concrete foreign policy achievement for Mr. Obama since he took office, reduces both sides' deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 from a previous cap of 2,200. Washington and Moscow must also cut the number of launchers, nuclear-armed missiles and heavy bombers in a move that will require vigorous verification procedures.

The treaty, which lasts for 10 years and could be extended, still needs to be ratified by the US Congress and the Russian Duma. One lingering headache is ongoing Russian concern over US missile-defense, an issue that has strained relations for years, even though Mr. Obama scrapped a plan by his predecessor to base interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic.

Russia viewed the system as a threat to its national security, rejecting American assurances that it was aimed at rogue states like Iran. It threatened to block the nuclear treaty last month after objecting to revise US plans that could see elements of the shield based in Bulgaria and Romania.

Analysts, however, said Moscow was merely a signal that this issue must not be overlooked in future US-Russia disarmament pacts, which are expected to follow the latest treaty as momentum builds behind reducing the risk of nuclear war.

In a day of symbolic significance, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev are due to sign the agreement in the richly adorned Spanish Hall of Prague Castle, the official residence of the Czech president.

The men will then have a formal lunch before the Russian leader flies home to Moscow, while Mr. Obama — in a sensitive balancing act — is due to host a dinner for leaders of 11 Central and Eastern European nations who either belonged to or were affected by the former Soviet Union. They will be seeking assurance over concerns about slipping support from Washington as it courts closer ties with Moscow.

Sealing the nuclear pact will go some way to silence critics of the US leader who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his vision of a nuclear-weapons-free world despite having not made any tangible progress towards that goal.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Iran derides Obama's "cowboy" nuclear stance

TEHRAN, Iran—U.S. allies on Wednesday lined up behind President Barack Obama's new policy aimed at reducing the likelihood of nuclear conflict. But Iran—classified as a possible target under the guidelines—dismissed it as a "cowboy" policy by a political newcomer doomed to fail.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in the Slovak capital Bratislava for an official visit, did not address the issue before leaving for Prague to sign a landmark treaty Thursday with Obama aimed at paring U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear weapons by 30 percent. But Washington's supporters in Asia and Europe welcomed Obama's pledge Tuesday to reduce America's nuclear arsenal, refrain from nuclear tests and not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them.

North Korea and Iran were not included in that pledge because they do not cooperate with other countries on nonproliferation standards.

The U.S. considers them nuclear rogues—Pyongyang for developing and testing nuclear weapons and Tehran because it is suspected of trying to do the same under the cover of a peaceful program, something Iran denies. Outlining the policy Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the focus would now be on terror groups such as al-Qaida as well as North Korea's nuclear buildup and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Addressing thousands in the country's northwest, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad derided Obama over the plan.

"American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys," Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in northwestern Iran.

"Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer (to politics). Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience. Be careful not to read just any paper put in front of you or repeat any statement recommended," Ahmadinejad said in the speech, aired live on state TV.

Ahmadinejad said Obama "is under the pressure of capitalists and the Zionists" and vowed Iran would not be pushed around.

"(American officials) bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn't do a damn thing, let alone you," he said, addressing Obama.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—whose country is the only mid-east nation considered to have nuclear weapons—dismissed speculation that the Jewish state could come under pressure.

"I'm not concerned that anyone would think that Israel is a terrorist regime," he said. "Everybody knows a terrorist and rogue regime when they see one, and believe me, they see quite a few around Israel."

Washington's key European partners on its efforts to contain Iran's nuclear activities welcomed the Obama initiative.

British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth said it "delivers strong progress" on pledges first made a year ago, adding Britain "looks forward to working closely with the US and other key allies and partners in the future."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero of France, like Britain a nuclear weapons state that backs global disarmament efforts, said Obama's nuclear posture "is convergent with our views."

Hailing the U.S. policy review as a historic shift in U.S. nuclear strategy, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged Iran to see it—and Thursday's planned Obama-Medvedev treaty signing—as a sign that the international community is "serious about disarmament."

In Asia, key allies benefiting from being under the U.S. nuclear defense umbrella expressed support, suggesting the Obama statement helped defuse concerns that they would be left vulnerable by a change in Washington's policy.

"This is a first step toward a nuclear-free world," said Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. "Deterrence is important, but so is reducing nuclear arsenals."

Katsuya Okada, Japan's foreign minister noted that Japan, which is located near North Korea, China and Russia but has decided not to develop nuclear weapons of its own, was concerned about how the policy will affect its security.

"The United States had assured its allies that this position will not endanger them," he said. "This is important."

In South Korea, the foreign and defense ministries issued a joint statement saying the new U.S. stance would strengthen Washington's commitment to its allies and pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons development.

"The government welcomes and supports" Obama's announcement, they said. There was no immediate reaction to Obama's plan from North Korean state media.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also welcomed the announcement.

"President Obama made good on his pledge a year ago to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policies and set the world on a path to a nuclear-weapons-free world," he said in a statement. "The review clearly states the long-term objective of U.S. policy is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, and implements the first of the actions that will be needed to get there."

Chinese vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai refused to comment on the new U.S. nuclear defense policy, which also calls on China to explain its nuclear intentions more clearly.

"China's nuclear policy and China's strategic intentions are clear. Since the 1960s we have repeated our position on many occasions and our position has never been changed," Cui said, without elaborating. "I believe people with fair and just minds will not question China's position."

Beijing, which is said to have 100 nuclear warheads, has said it would not be the first to attack with nuclear weapons.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is to travel to Washington to take part in an April 12-13 nuclear summit that will focus on securing nuclear material to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The meeting is expected to bring together about 46 leaders.

Jahn reported from Bratislava, Slovakia. Associated Press writers Anita Chang, Angela Charlton, Eric Talmadge, Geir Moulson. Matti Friedman and Danica Kirka and researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Obama announces new strategy on nuclear weapons

President Barack Obama on Tuesday vowed to constrain the use of the nation's Cold War-era nuclear arsenal, in a bold but politically risky move aimed at discouraging the technology from spreading.

Obama's plan, a sharp departure from his predecessor's policy, is a bid to play down the threat posed by nations like Russia and China while emphasizing the threat posed by terrorists or states believed to encourage terrorism.

"To stop the spread of nuclear weapons, prevent nuclear terrorism, and pursue the day when these weapons do not exist, we will work aggressively to advance every element of our comprehensive agenda – to reduce arsenals, to secure vulnerable nuclear materials, and to strengthen" international agreement, Obama said in a statement.

Under the new plan, the U.S. promises not to use nuclear weapons against countries that don't have them. The policy would not apply to states like North Korea and Iran, however, because of their refusal to cooperate with the international community on nonproliferation standards.

Obama's plan would lessen the role nuclear weapons play in America's defense planning.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomes the president's reaffirmation of his commitment toward a nuclear-free world and believes the new Nuclear Posture Review "is a timely initiative in that direction."

Congressional Democrats also hailed the decision, while some Republicans said it could weaken the U.S. defense capability.

Rep. Buck McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said the policy change could carry "clear consequences" for security and said he was troubled by "some of the language and perceived signals imbedded" in the policy.

At a Pentagon news conference, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the unprecedented limits being placed on the U.S. nuclear arsenal won't weaken the nation's defense and will send a "strong message" to Iran and North Korea to "play by the rules."

"All options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category," Gates said.

Obama has stopped short of saying the U.S. will never be the first to launch a nuclear attack, as many arms control advocates want.

Gates said the administration decided against limiting the nation's options further because of the danger still being posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

"This is obviously a weapon of last resort," Gates told reporters. But "we also recognize the real world we continue to live in."

EZLaptops-Free Laptops for You