- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2010

UPDATED:

President Obama put the finishing touches Friday on a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia that will cut nuclear arsenals by 30 percent, delivering a foreign policy victory to a White House already riding high after the passage of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul package.

The president described the deal — which still must be ratified by the Senate — as the biggest arms-reduction achievement in two decades, and said he’ll fly to Prague on April 8 to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and sign the treaty. The agreement also gives Mr. Obama a boost heading into a nuclear security summit he’s called for later next month and a major U.N. nonproliferation conference scheduled for May.

“Nuclear weapons represent both the darkest days of the Cold War and the most troubling threats of our time. Today, we’ve taken another step forward in leaving behind the legacy of the 20th century while building a more secure future for our children,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the White House press briefing room Friday morning. “We’ve demonstrated the importance of American leadership — and American partnership — on behalf of our own security and the world’s.”

The agreement caps a year of intense negotiations with Mr. Medvedev over a successor pact to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in early December.

Mr. Obama said START II will cut the nuclear arsenals of the two former foes by one-third and put in place a strong verification regime. He said it makes clear the intentions of both the U.S. and Russia to take the lead in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials also hope the accord will give fresh momentum to the drive to increase international pressure on Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that the treaty gives the U.S. and Russia the moral high ground in calling on other nations to halt their nuclear aims.

At the same time, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who appeared alongside Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, said the treaty places no constraints on a proposed U.S. missile defense system in Europe — a sticking point between the two countries. The U.s. government has said the shield is designed to protect against threats from countries such as Iran, but Russia has objected to the placement of parts of the system in Eastern Europe, which it says indicates it’s an aggressive move against them.

Finessing the missile defense constraints may have eased the way for the treaty’s approval by the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is required to ratify it. Citing broad bipartisan votes on past treaties, Mrs. Clinton said she is confident of its chances.

Indeed, key lawmakers on Capitol Hill applauded the announcement Friday and expressed optimism that recent partisan battles on Capitol Hill over health care would not hurt its chances.

“As soon as the president sends the agreement to the Senate, we will appeal to all our colleagues to set aside preconceptions and partisanship and consider the treaty on its merits,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry said. “We can’t squander this opportunity to reset both our relations with Russia and our role as the world leader on nuclear nonproliferation. This is a major commitment by both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals and an important step in solidifying our relationship with Russia. Let’s get it done.”

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