President Barack Obama says the new nuclear arms reduction treaty agreed to with Russia after intense negotiations over the last year sends a strong signal that both nations are taking the lead in reducing nuclear weapons. The president and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev set an April 8 date in Prague to sign the treaty, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons on each side by about one-third.
Addressing reporters in the White House briefing room, President Obama said the agreement moves the world closer to the goal of a more secure future without such weapons, which he said represent both the darkest days of the Cold War, and the most troubling threats of our time.
"Today, we've taken another step forward by - in leaving behind the legacy of the 20th century while building a more secure future for our children," said President Obama.
Earlier in the day, the president spoke by phone with Russian President Medvedev, which the White House noted was the 14th direct meeting or phone conversation on the new treaty.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), signed in 1991, expired in December, and President Obama set the goal of achieving a new treaty as one of his major priorities.
The new agreement would reduce the number of strategic nuclear arms of both sides by one-third and provide for full verification and monitoring.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that while no one expects the world will achieve the goal of "zero nuclear weapons" anytime soon, the new treaty is a major step toward greater security with fewer nuclear weapons:
"It is clear that we can accomplish goals with fewer nuclear weapons," said Robert Gates. "The reductions in this treaty will not affect the strength of our nuclear triad, nor does this treaty limit plans to protect the U.S. and our allies by improving and deploying missile defense systems."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the new treaty is also a major step in the goal of "resetting" the U.S.-Russia relationship, which includes efforts to deal with nuclear proliferation and terrorism.
"We were committed from the beginning to reset the U.S.- Russia relationship because we saw it as essential to making progress on our top priorities, from counter-terrorism, to nuclear security and nonproliferation," said Hillary Clinton.
Secretary Clinton said the U.S and Russia will continue to have disagreements, but added the treaty is an example of deep and substantive cooperation on a matter of vital importance.
The treaty will have to be ratified both by Russia's Parliament and the U.S. Senate, something President Obama and his administration are committed to achieving.
The president met this week with two lawmakers who will play a key role in this, Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, the chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as Mr. Obama hopes to pave the way for action in the coming months.
House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman voiced hope the new treaty will set an example for other nuclear powers and help strengthen global nonproliferation efforts "severely threatened" by Iranian and North Korean efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.
Asked what the new treaty means for U.S-Russia cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue, Secretary Clinton referred to recent in depth consultations. She said there will be increasing activity in the very near future aimed at achieving the votes needed in the U.N. Security Council for a package of sanctions on Iran.
In Russia, the announcement on the nuclear arms treaty was made by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a live nationwide television statement.