WASHINGTON — Capping months of hard negotiations, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on Friday to sharp cuts in the nuclear arsenals of both nations in the most comprehensive arms control treaty in two decades. “We have turned words into action,” Obama declared.
Obama said the pact, to be signed April 8 in Prague, was part of his effort to “reset” relations with Russia and a step toward “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
The agreement would require both sides to reduce their arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons by about a third, from 2,200 now to 1,550 each. The pact, replacing and expanding the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, which expired in December, was a significant gesture toward improved U.S.-Russian relations that have been badly frayed.
The reductions would still leave both sides with immense arsenals — and the ability to easily annihilate each other.
“In many ways, nuclear weapons represent both the darkest days of the Cold War, and the most troubling threats of our time,” Obama said at the White House. “Today, we have taken another step forward in leaving behind the legacy of the 20th century while building a more secure future for our children.”
In Russia, Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told the Interfax news agency, “This treaty reflects the balance of interests of both nations.”
A Kremlin statement said, “The new treaty stipulates that strategic arms will be based exclusively on the territories of each of the nations.”
Both sides would have seven years after the treaty’s ratification to carry out the approximately 30 percent reduction in long-range nuclear warheads. The agreement also calls for cutting by about half the missiles and bombers that carry the weapons to their targets.
“We have turned words into action. We have made progress that is clear and concrete. And we have demonstrated the importance of American leadership — and American partnership — on behalf of our own security, and the world’s,” Obama said.
Though the agreement must still be ratified by the Senate and both houses of the Russian Parliament before it takes effect, Obama and Medvedev plan to sign it next month in Prague, the city where last April, Obama delivered his signature speech on arms control.
For his administration, a major value of the treaty is in setting the stage for potential further successes.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, standing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates alongside Obama, noted next month’s international meeting of leaders on nuclear proliferation being hosted by the president in Washington, focused on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to terrorists and rogue states.
“We come with more credibility, Russia comes with more credibility, having negotiated this treaty,” she said.
Ratification in the Senate will require 67 votes, two thirds of the Senate, meaning Obama will need support from Republicans. Some GOP senators had previously expressed concerns about concessions being made by U.S. negotiators.
Clinton, asked whether approval could be achieved given the recent fierce partisan battles and close votes over health care, said it could.
“National security has always produced large bipartisan majorities, and I see no reason why this should be any different,” she said. “I believe that a vast majority of the Senate, at the end of the day, will see that this is in America’s interest. And it goes way beyond politics.”
In Russia, the treaty goes first to the State Duma, the lower house, and then to the Federation Council.
Speaking in the White House briefing room, Obama said the treaty by the globe’s two largest nuclear powers would “send a clear signal that we intend to lead” the rest of the world in reducing the nuclear threat.
Clinton noted that the U.S. and Russia still possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. “We do not need such large arsenals to protect our nation,” she said.
She emphasized the verification mechanism in the treaty, a key demand of the U.S. that was resisted by Russia and was one of the sticking points that delayed completion of the deal. It will “reduce the chance for misunderstandings and miscalculations,” she told reporters.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that by helping to build trust “this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do — protect and defend the citizens of the United States.”
He said U.S. commanders around the world “stand solidly behind the treaty.”
Gates cautioned the treaty — and an accompanying review of nuclear posture — will require more spending to modernize America’s nuclear arsenal. At the same time, the defense secretary called it an “important milestone” in consigning Cold War nightmares to the past.
Gates recalled serving as an Air Force officer supervising Minuteman missiles at Wightman Air Force Base. The new treaty, he said, “is testimony to just how much the world has changed.”
The deal ended nearly a year of tense and tumultuous negotiations between the two countries.