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President Obama is focusing this week on the world's nuclear arsenal. The administration yesterday unveiled plans to revamp America's nuclear posture. Tomorrow, the president will sign an arms control agreement with his Russian counterpart in Prague - thats the city where he made a speech last year about the need to work toward a world without nuclear weapons.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Nuclear Posture Review released yesterday is a break from the past and a roadmap to implement President Obama's agenda.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Defense Department): This review describes how the United States will reduce the role and numbers of nuclear weapons with a long-term goal of a nuclear-free world.
KELEMEN: The Obama administration is making a pledge to non-nuclear states that the U.S. won't use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against them. But there is an exception for countries that dont comply with their non-proliferation obligations. Gates says Iran and North Korea should take note.
Sec. GATES: So if there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is that if you're going to play by the rules, if you're going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain obligations to you.
But if you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you.
KELEMEN: Gates says the fundamental role for nuclear weapons is for deterrence. This is a weapon of last resort, as he put it. The Nuclear Posture Review makes clear that the U.S. will not develop new nuclear weapons. It sets out ways to ensure that the president has more time to make decisions about using such weapons. And it reaffirms the U.S. commitment to arms reductions.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says once a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is signed and ratified, the U.S. will start talking to Russia about more cuts, including shorter ranged missiles.
Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): We have made it clear that we look forward to the ratification of START and then another round of discussions with the Russians about further reductions in our arsenal. And we will also be working with them to try to find common ground around missile defense, which we are committed to pursuing.
KELEMEN: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says his country reserves the right to withdraw from the new START treaty if it decides that an U.S. missile defense system threatens Russia's deterrence.
Clinton said that position was no surprise. She repeated the U.S. line that Russia has an opportunity to cooperate with the Obama administration on missile defense. And she added a bit of diplomatic flattery, pointing out to her Russian counterpart that his picture made it into the administration's Nuclear Posture Review.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sec. CLINTON: Yes (unintelligible) look at that. It's in there - yes, Page 19.
KELEMEN: Critics on the right are worried that President Obama is putting too many constraints on America's nuclear arsenal. On the left, some arms control advocates said they had been expecting more from a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president who spoke in Prague last year about a world free of nuclear weapons.
George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says President Obama has political reasons to take the middle ground: He needs senators to ratify arms control agreements.
Dr. GEORGE PERKOVICH (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Look, the president is a realist and he knows very well he could go out and give 10 more Prague speeches or 10 speeches even more visionary than Prague, and if you can't get even a modest reduction treaty like START ratified by the Senate, so what. It's nice words but it's not even music.
To be real and to actually get something done, you got to get 67 votes in the Senate.
KELEMEN: And the Obama administration won't just have a tough time getting the votes it needs to ratify the new START agreement with Russia. It also wants to get a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty ratified, which Perkovich says will be a much more difficult task. He says the administration has one thing going for it: This Nuclear Posture Review took into account the views of the military, the Department of Energy, the State Department, and others, accommodating various interest groups already.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.
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