McCain Outlines His Vision for Nuclear Security
ROBERT SMITH, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment. I'm Robert Smith.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Senator John McCain has laid out his vision for America's nuclear policy. His speech comes at a time when presidential candidates are exchanging sharp words on how to deal with Iran. From nuclear testing to nuclear arms control to civilian nuclear energy, McCain yesterday sought to lay out his path to a world less threatened by nuclear weapons.
NPR's Mike Schuster has the story.
MIKE SCHUSTER: On nuclear issues, John McCain, speaking at the University of Denver, appeared to be searching for the center between on the one hand his oft-repeated criticism of Barack Obama...
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Many believe all we need to do to end the nuclear programs of hostile governments is to have our president sit down with leaders in Pyongyang and Tehran, as if we haven't tried talking to these governments repeatedly over the past two decades.
SCHUSTER: And on the other, the more hawkish approach of some in the Bush administration.
Sen. MCCAIN: Others think military action alone can achieve our goals, as if military actions were not fraught with their own terrible risks. While the use of force may be necessary, it can only be as a last resort, not a first step.
SCHUSTER: McCain's language certainly sounded more moderate than much of the rhetoric on nuclear arms control that has come out of the Bush administration. The U.S. must return to broadminded internationalism and determined diplomacy, McCain said, advocating a vision not of the U.S. acting alone, in his words, but in building a community of nations drawn together in a common purpose.
McCain's advisers called this speech a significant departure from the policies of President Bush. This involves, said McCain, a return to serious nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia, a reconsideration of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, an end to the global production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and a dialogue on nuclear arms with China.
The rhetoric sounded good, says John Wolfsthal, a specialist on nuclear issues with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But Wolfsthal says the vision lacks specifics.
Mr. JOHN WOLFSTHAL (Center for Strategic and International Studies): When you look at the details, it doesn't give me much hope that we're going to see major reductions in nuclear weapons, that we're going to see major breakthroughs on non-proliferation, or see a major improvement in nuclear security.
SCHUSTER: Since 2002, the Bush administration has shown little interest in negotiating new reductions of nuclear weapons with Russia. The current treaty in effect gives both the U.S. and Russia until 2012 to reduce their deployed nuclear weapons to about 2000. That treaty allows both to maintain a stockpile in reserve of several thousand more nuclear warheads.
Yesterday McCain said the world's two largest nuclear powers could go lower.
Sen. MCCAIN: I believe we should reduce our nuclear forces to the lowest level we judge necessary and we should be prepared to enter into a new arms control agreement with Russia reflecting the nuclear reductions that I'll seek.
SCHUSTER: McCain did not suggest any specific goals for reducing nuclear weapons. John Wolfsthal is doubtful McCain could convince the Russians he's serious.
Mr. WOLFSTHAL: Most people would call that low-hanging fruit. The Russians have been pushing for the U.S. to negotiate lower numbers and put them in a binding, verified arms control agreement. The problem is, John McCain has done other things that is going to make it very unlikely that the Russians will play ball. He's called for expelling them from the G8 group of industrialized nations. And it's not clear how you can sort of kick the Russians in the teeth one day and then hope that they'll be accommodating and constructive on the next.
SCHUSTER: McCain did hint he may support the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which he voted against when it came up for ratification in the Senate nine years ago. The Bush administration has shown no interest in reviving the treaty, although it has abided by a U.S. moratorium on nuclear tests that has been in effect for 16 years.
McCain was interrupted several times yesterday by anti-war protestors unhappy with his support for the war in Iraq.
Unidentified Man: Endless war, endless war, endless war.
Sen. MCCAIN: This may turn into a longer speech than you had anticipated.
(Soundbite of laughter and applause)
Sen. MCCAIN: And by the way, I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends.
(Soundbite of applause)
Sen. MCCAIN: I will never surrender in Iraq.
SCHUSTER: On Iraq, McCain's position is thoroughly in line with the Bush administration.
Mike Schuster, NPR News.
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