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“We’re not modernizing. That is one of the basic principles and rules that have been part of our nuclear posture review and part of our policy,” she said during a conference at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

U.S. nuclear weapons are being maintained, because the United States needs a safe and secure arsenal as long as atomic weapons exist, she said.

The comment that the United States is not modernizing its arsenal immediately raised concerns that President Obama may be reneging on his promise in 2010 to spend $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nuclear weapons complex. The promise was crucial to gaining Republican Senate support for ratifying a new strategic arms reduction agreement (New Start), although the White House has not pressed Congress to fully fund the modernization.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Gottemoeller clarified to Inside the Ring that she was responding to a question about U.S. efforts to develop space weapons and missile defenses and to use a U.S. nuclear laboratory to build new nuclear weapons.

“The meaning of Acting Undersecretary Gottemoeller’s response was that the United States is not developing new nuclear warheads,” Alexandra Bell said. “The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review stated that the United States would not develop new nuclear warheads.”

The undersecretary “confirmed that the administration is committed to ensuring a safe, secure and reliable arsenal through our stockpile stewardship program.”

Ms. Gottemoeller made no mention during her remarks that the Obama administration is planning further cuts in U.S. nuclear weapons beyond the New Start level of 1,550 deployed warheads.

Another official suggested the comment may have been a “Freudian slip” reflecting Ms. Gottemoeller’s anti-nuclear weapons activism.

The cuts are expected to be announced by the president in the near future as part of a new round of arms talks with Moscow.

Ms. Gottemoeller described herself at the conference as “the negotiator of the New Start treaty,” and said she looks forward to an upcoming meeting of U.S., Russian and Chinese officials in Geneva to discuss “multilateral arms control negotiations.”