U.S. Announces Arms Control Treaty With Russia
The United States and Russia have reached “the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades,” President Obama said Friday.
The agreement cuts by about one-third “the nuclear weapons that the United States and Russia will deploy,” the president said. “It significantly reduces missiles and launchers. It puts in place a strong and effective verification regime. And it maintains the flexibility that we need to protect and advance our national security, and to guarantee our unwavering commitment to the security of our allies.”
Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will sign the agreement April 8 in Prague, Czech Republic, the president said.
The new treaty will consist of three tiers, the White House said.
“Under the Treaty, the U.S. and Russia will be limited to significantly fewer strategic arms within seven years from the date the Treaty enters into force,” the White House said in a news release. “Each Party has the flexibility to determine for itself the structure of its strategic forces within the aggregate limits of the Treaty.”
“The Treaty’s duration will be ten years, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement,” the news release added.
State Department spokesman Mike Toner said Wednesday that talks for a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired in December, were “almost at the finish line.”
A Russian official, who has knowledge of the negotiations but was not authorized to speak on the record, described the agreement as significant for both sides. “The strategic part of our relationship is very important,” he said, “and it affects the general way we interact with each other.”
Negotiators have been working since April 2009 to wrap up the “follow-on” to the 1991 agreement. Talks were difficult, with disagreements over verification, including on-site inspection of missiles that carry nuclear warheads.
A U.S. official with knowledge of the talks earlier told CNN that negotiators had found “innovative” ways to verify what each side has. Verification will be a top issue politically because the U.S. Senate and the Russian parliament will each have to ratify any agreement.
Russian officials at one point objected to the Obama administration’s plans to build a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. Specifically, they were angered by news leaks from Romania that it had agreed to allow missile interceptors to be installed in that country.
The issue, according to arms control experts, was resolved by including non-binding language in the START treaty’s preamble stating that there is a relationship between offensive and defensive weapons; however, the treaty itself deals only with limits on offensive weapons systems. This resolution could help placate U.S. critics who want no link in the treaty between offensive and defensive weapons, arguing that it might be used to try to limit a U.S. missile-defense plan.
The new START would be the first treaty related to arms control since the end of the Cold War, experts have said, setting the stage for further arms reductions that will tackle thorny issues like what to do with non-deployed warheads that are kept in storage, tactical nuclear weapons and further cuts in missiles and launch vehicles.
On Wednesday, the Czech government confirmed that it has agreed to host the signing of the new START agreement in Prague. The location was the setting for a speech by Obama last April 5 in which he laid out his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons.
The American side is hoping to have the agreement signed by the two presidents before April 12, when a two-day nuclear summit is to be held in Washington.
The new arms agreement would reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads each side can have.
The United States has about 2,200 strategic warheads deployed; Russia has an estimated 2,500.
Under the new agreement, each side would be allowed 1,500 to 1,675 nuclear warheads, officials have said.
The treaty also would also limit the number of strategic bombers and missiles that carry the warheads to between 500 and 1,100 for each side, officials have said.
The current limit is 1,600, but the United States has 900 delivery vehicles; Russia has an estimated 600.