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Obama, Medvedev Sign Treaty To Cut Nuclear Weapons

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David Dyar

With a signed nuclear arms reduction treaty in hand, President Barack Obama is working to convince skeptics of its merits. Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new START treaty on Thursday.

President Obama's effort to promote the accord began almost immediately after he and Mr. Medvedev signed it.

In the Czech capital's presidential castle, Mr. Obama said Thursday the new START treaty will cut U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads by 25 to 30 percent, and will lead to talks on deeper nuclear reductions. "This treaty will set the stage for further cuts, and going forward, we hope to pursue further discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons," he said.

Mr. Medvedev called the agreement a win-win situation for Americans, Russians and the world. "Both parties have won, and taking into account this victory of ours, the entire world community has won," he said.

The new treaty replaces the 1991 START-I treaty, which expired in December.  

The signing took place days after Mr. Obama announced a major change in U.S. nuclear policy.  In his nuclear posture review, the president declared that the main focus of Washington's nuclear policy is now nuclear terrorism and proliferation, not potential nuclear war between nations.

Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, says the treaty and the policy shift are welcome developments.

"We think we can even go to deeper reductions and we hope they sign a new treaty after this one relatively soon.  But this treaty is a great step forward," said Tom Collina. "It is very important.  And it puts U.S. and Russian arms control back on a firm footing.  And again, [it] sets us up for deeper cuts."

Mr. Obama and top Democrats in the Senate are working to persuade Republican Senators to vote for the treaty.  Republicans have been solid in their opposition to many of the president's proposals, but the administration says a yes vote is in the nation's security interests.

Some Republicans share the view of former Reagan administration nuclear adviser Frank Gaffney, who sees the president's nuclear policy shift as a unilateral disarmament. "It is happening at time when no other nuclear nation in the world is unable to produce nuclear weapons or has voluntarily said it will not.  No other nuclear nation in the world is going to allow its inventory of nuclear capabilities to atrophy.  And there are other nations in the world who do not have nuclear weapons who are going to get them," he said.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, says he plans to begin hearings on the treaty in the coming weeks. In a written statement, the Democratic Senator said he hopes to send it to the full Senate for approval as soon as possible.  The president said he hopes to have the treaty approved by the end of the year.

Later Thursday, Mr. Obama focused his efforts on winning over skeptical Europeans. He finished the day at a dinner with 11 Central and European heads of state, some of whom may be concerned about Russia's influence in the region.   

The president will meet one-on-one  with Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus Friday, before returning to Washington.

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