U.S. Signs New Arms Control Treaty With Russia

The U.S. and Russia have reached final agreement on a new strategic arms treaty, President Obama announced Friday. The treaty replaces the now expired START treaty and limits each side to 1,550 warheads, about one-third fewer than currently allowed, and 700 deployed missiles and bombers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Russia and the United States have successfully completed negotiations on a new strategic arms reduction treaty. For the first time in nearly a decade, the U.S. and Russia will carry out further cuts in their arsenals of deployed nuclear warheads. The goal is now 1,500 on each side. That's a 30 percent reduction from current levels. President Obama announced the new treaty after a final telephone conversation today with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

NPR's Mike Shuster has more.

MIKE SHUSTER: The U.S. and Russia have not been enemies for many years now. But negotiating a new START treaty proved difficult, nevertheless. The original START treaty signed by the first President Bush and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev dated back to 1991. When it expired in December, there was nothing ready to put in its place.

But Russia and the U.S. agreed to continue negotiations into the new year. And today at the White House, President Obama announced that a new treaty had been finalized.

President BARACK OBAMA: In many ways, 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 by - in leaving behind the legacy of the 20th century while building a more secure future for our children. We've turned words into action. We've made progress that is clear and concrete. And we've demonstrated the importance of American leadership and American partnership on behalf of our own security and the world's.

SHUSTER: Right now the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by Russia and the U.S. stands at about 2,200 on each side. The new treaty will bring that number down to 1,500 warheads on long range missiles, bombers and in submarines. Determining the numbers may have been the easy part. There were serious disagreements over verification methods - how each side will monitor the progress of implementation on the other.

The U.S. wanted more and Russia wanted less. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said today he and the other senior officers in the Pentagon stand firmly behind the treaty.

Admiral MICHAEL MULLEN (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Through the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires and the flexibility it preserves, this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do - protect and defend the citizens of the United States. I am as confident in its success as I am in its safeguards.

SHUSTER: One key issue that proved difficult was missile defense. The Russian government has been suspicious about U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe. It was Moscow's opposition in part that prompted President Obama last year to reformulate the Bush administration's plans for missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the new START treaty preserves American flexibility to deploy a missile defense system that could protect U.S.-NATO allies in Europe. Gates said the U.S. is still interested in Russian cooperation on missile defense.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Department): We think that there is still broad opportunity to not only engage the Russians, but hopefully make them a participant in a European-wide defense capability.

SHUSTER: President Obama has made deep cuts in nuclear arsenal as a key component of his defense strategy and of his effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and set a course that could eventually eliminate nuclear weapons altogether.

Secretary of State Clinton emphasized today that's why in her view achieving the new START treaty was so important.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): It says to our country, the Cold War really is behind us and these massive nuclear arsenals that both of our countries maintained, no longer have to be so big. That's not only in our security interests, but it also is a commitment by the United States and Russia toward nonproliferation and toward the eventual goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

SHUSTER: President Obama and Russian President Medvedev are expected to sign the treaty on April 8th in Prague. Then the treaty goes to the Senate for ratification. Given the deeply divisive mood in Congress, it could be difficult for the administration to muster the two-thirds majority, 67 votes, needed for ratification.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Washington.

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