WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev reached final agreement Friday on a nuclear arms treaty that will cut the nuclear arsenals of the onetime rivals to the lowest levels since the 1960s.
With a morning telephone call, the two leaders settled on the final details of an eight-month negotiation. They agreed to meet in Prague, Czech Republic, on April 8 to sign the pact, which will replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991.
Obama announced the agreement in an appearance at the White House with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen.
Obama acknowledged that the talks, which were slowed by differences over the sensitive issues of missile defense and verification, were long and difficult. “It took patience, it took perseverance,” Obama said. “But we never gave up.”
The agreement provides Obama with a tangible foreign policy achievement that comes on the heels of passage of the ambitious health insurance legislation.
The treaty also represents a step forward in the U.S. effort to improve relations with Russia. And by demonstrating American willingness to cut its own arsenal, it provides momentum for Obama’s broader campaign effort to scale back the worldwide nuclear stockpile. As part of that campaign, Obama will host leaders of dozens of countries at a nuclear summit in Washington the week after he meets Medvedev in Prague.
The treaty will reduce the ceiling on deployed strategic nuclear warheads by about 30 percent, from 2,200 to 1,500 on each side. The maximum number of launchers – missiles, subs and bombers that deliver the warheads – will be cut from 1,600 to 800.
White House officials said they are confident the Senate will ratify the treaty later this year.
The treaty needs 67 votes for ratification, meaning only a handful of Republicans are needed to join the 57 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents. However, the congressional calendar will be crowded for the rest of the year. If the treaty is not approved before the midterm congressional election, the Senate may have more Republican members next year.