RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And as we just heard, Mr. Obama and Russia's president announced plans yesterday to significantly reduce nuclear weapons in both countries. Though the details still need to be worked out, most arms control experts back in Washington are sounding upbeat about the deal.
As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: President Obama says that the U.S. and Russia have to lead by example if they want to talk other countries out of their nuclear weapons programs and keep dangerous materials out of the hands of terrorists.
President BARACK OBAMA: This is an urgent issue and one in which the United States and Russian have to take 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.
KELEMEN: In the document they signed yesterday, he and President Medvedev agreed to reduce their country's strategic warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 and to make even heavier cuts in the delivery systems.
Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, calls this a modest reduction from the roughly 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads each side deploys today, but he says it's important for a deal to be finalized before the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, expires in December.
Mr. DARYL KIMBALL (Arms Control Association): What is most important about it is not the size of the reductions - and these are going to be very modest 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.
KELEMEN: There is another argument in favor of the arms control talks: they give credibility to the U.S. and Russia as they, along with others, try to shore up the global nuclear non-proliferation system.
Steven Pifer, a former State Department official now with the Brookings Institution, says Iran and North Korea might not pay too much attention but the U.S. and Russia will be in a better position to deal with them diplomatically.
Mr. STEVEN PIFER (Brookings Institution): It's not the magic bullet, but it helps. And if, in fact, Washington and Moscow aren't doing anything in reducing their nuclear arms, it's going to be very hard to see that we could do anything further in terms of strengthening the non-proliferation regime.
KELEMEN: President Obama says he plans to host a global nuclear security summit next year. That could help boost the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Daryl Kimball says is under stress.
Mr. KIMBALL: 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. And the only way that they're going to be able to build that support is by fulfilling their disarmament obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
KELEMEN: The two sides agreed to disagree about U.S. missile defense plans, saying only they would jointly study the issues involved. The U.S. approach has been to try to reset relations with Moscow. And Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine, says the agreement on arms reductions could help. He said one only needs only to look back to Cold War history.
Mr. PIFER: 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 tougher issues that you might not be able to address otherwise.
KELEMEN: And there are plenty of sore points in U.S.-Russian relations these days that need to be tackled.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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