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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

EZLaptops-Free Laptops for You