President Obama says the U.S. and Russia must lead by example if they want to dissuade other countries from pursuing nuclear weapons programs and prevent dangerous materials from getting into the hands of terrorists.
So when he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on Monday, the two leaders laid out a plan to reduce their strategic nuclear weapons.
Obama called it an "urgent issue" issue that requires U.S. and Russian leadership.
"It is very difficult for us to exert that leadership unless we are showing ourselves willing to deal with our own nuclear stockpiles in a more rational way," Obama said.
Obama and Medvedev announced an agreement Monday to reduce their strategic warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 and to make even deeper cuts in the delivery systems. Negotiators still have to finalize the numbers and agree to the accounting rules before a formal treaty is reached.
Encouraging Signs From The Nuclear Giants
But arms control experts in Washington are upbeat.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, says the Obama-Medvedev announcement is a modest reduction in nuclear arsenals, but important.
"What is most important about it is not the size of the reductions ... but the fact that there is a continuation of a system of regulation and verification over the world's two largest nuclear arsenals, which today still comprise about 95 percent of the world's total nuclear stockpiles," Kimball said.
Negotiators are trying to finalize a deal before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, expires in December. START was signed in 1991, just five months after the collapse of the Soviet Union and nearly a decade after it was first proposed by President Reagan.
Analysts also say the arms control talks give credibility to the U.S. and Russia as they try to shore up the global nuclear non-proliferation system.
Better Poised To Deal With Iran, North Korea
Steven Pifer, a former State Department official now with the Brookings Institution, says the talks could put the U.S. and Russia in a better position to deal with Iran and North Korea.
"It is not the magic bullet, but it helps. And if, in fact, Washington and Moscow aren't doing anything in reducing nuclear arms, it is going to be very hard to see that we can do anything further in terms of strengthening the non-proliferation regime," Pifer said.
Obama says he plans to host a global nuclear security summit next year.
That could help boost the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Kimball says is "under stress."
"The U.S. and Russia need to get the non-nuclear-weapons states to work with them to improve safeguards, to clamp down on those countries that don't comply with their safeguards, like Iran and North Korea, to find ways to work together to limit the spread of the technologies that can be used to make bomb material, highly enriched uranium and plutonium," Kimball said.
"And the only way they are going to build that support is by fulfilling their disarmament obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty," he added.
Cold War-Style Progress?
While Obama and Medvedev agreed on nuclear arms, plenty of sore points remain in the U.S.-Russia relationship.
The U.S. and Russian presidents agreed to disagree about U.S. missile defense plans, saying only they would jointly study the issues involved.
Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine, says the agreement on arms reductions could help. He said one needs only to look back to Cold War history.
"While presidents Reagan and Gorbachev back in the 1980s were signing the treaty banning medium-range missiles, there was also progress in terms of getting Soviet 'refuseniks' permission to leave the Soviet Union. So, progress on nuclear arms reductions can allow you to create the diplomatic space to address some other tough issues that you might not be able to address otherwise," Pifer said.