U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that the Obama administration remains committed to the nuclear test ban treaty and efforts to stop the spread of atomic weapons. But, Biden stressed that the United States will not disarm unilaterally.
Ten months ago, President Barack Obama called for international action to create a world without nuclear weapons.
Since then, he has come under criticism from political opponents, who call his non-proliferation stand weak and naive.
Vice President Biden says they are missing the point and that the goals of disarmament and deterrence are intertwined.
"The spread of nuclear weapons is the greatest threat facing the country and, I would argue, facing humanity," said Vice President Biden. "And that is why we are working both to stop their proliferation and eventually eliminate them. But until that day comes, we have to do everything in our power to maintain our arsenal."
Biden says the United States must be prepared to spend more to maintain its nuclear stockpile. He notes that President Obama's proposed 2011 budget includes higher funding for scientists and laboratories that deal with nuclear readiness.
"We announced a new budget that reverses the last decade of dangerous decline," said Mr. Biden. "It devotes $7 billion to maintaining our nuclear stockpile and modernizing our nuclear infrastructure."
The vice president's remarks came in a speech at the National Defense University here in Washington. Biden told a gathering of arms control experts, members of Congress and military personnel that threats remain and that the United States must be ready to meet them.
He specifically mentioned Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"We have tightened sanctions on North Korea's proliferation activities through the most restricted U.N. Security Council resolution to date," he said. "And the international community is enforcing those sanctions as we speak. And now, we are working with our international partners to ensure that Iran also faces real consequences for failing to meet its obligations."
The speech was another sign that Biden - a champion of arms non-proliferation during his decades in the U.S. Senate - is becoming the Obama administration's chief spokesman for its nuclear policy.
The vice president is leading a White House campaign to win Senate approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Biden says the accord is as important as ever, noting that issues that arose during the negotiation phase have been dealt with.
"We are confident that all reasonable concerns raised about the treaty back then - concerns about verification and the reliability of our own arsenal - have now been addressed," said Joe Biden.
Biden spoke at a time when arms control efforts are accelerating. Negotiations with Russia on a new strategic arms reduction treaty are in their final phase and an international non-proliferation conference is scheduled to be held in Washington in May.