US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, have signed a landmark disarmament treaty in the Czech capital of Prague that Medvedev said would "open a new page in relations" between the nations.
AFP - US President Barack Obama and Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev signed a landmark treaty Thursday committing to major nuclear arms cuts and made a joint warning to Iran to expect sanctions over its nuclear drive.
The two presidents hailed the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) as opening a new era in ties, though Medvedev reaffirmed Russian opposition to the missile defence shield that the United States wants in Europe.
The former Cold War foes will be allowed a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, about 30 percent lower than a limit set in 2002. They are also restricted to 700 air-, ground- and submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles that carry warheads.
Agreed after months of hard bargaining, the two presidents sat side-by-side in the renaissance-era Spanish Hall at Prague Castle to sign the successor to the 1991 START treaty.
Obama called it "an extraordinary event" and an "important milestone" for anti-proliferation efforts and for often-strained US-Russia relations.
Obama said stopping the spread of nuclear weapons "will move us further beyond the Cold War, strengthen the global non-proliferation regime, and make the United States, and the world, safer and more secure."
Medvedev said the treaty "enables us to rise to a higher level of cooperation between Russia and the United States" while also declaring that the negotiations "have not been simple".
The two presidents warned Iran to expect sanctions if it maintains its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and cooperate with UN atomic watchdog inspectors amid Western suspicions that it is seeking a bomb.
Obama called for "smart" and "strong" sanctions by the United Nations, which in May will hold a review conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Obama said the United States and its allies "will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT". "Those nations that refuse to meet their obligations will be isolated, and denied the opportunity that comes with international integration," he said.
Medvedev said: "Unfortunately Tehran is not reacting to an array of constructive compromise proposals. We cannot close our eyes to this."
"I have said many times that sanctions very often do not work, but sometimes they are necessary... These need to be smart sanctions, capable of prompting the right behaviour," Medvedev said.
It was in the Czech capital exactly 12 months ago that Obama gave a keynote speech committing the United States to the aim of a world without nuclear weapons.
The treaty was signed in a key year for anti-proliferation efforts with the international community struggling to persuade North Korea to disarm and to counter Iran's nuclear drive.
Obama this week announced a new US nuclear posture under which the United States would not stage an atomic attack against a country that does not have nuclear weapons. He pointedly said however that this would not include Iran or North Korea.
The US leader is to host a nuclear security summit in Washington next week, ahead of the NPT review in New York in May.
The new START treaty has to be passed by the Russian parliament and the US Congress, and Obama's Democrats do not have the required two thirds majority in the Senate.
Analysts have also highlighted how both the United States and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons that are not officially deployed and do not come within the treaty.
The negotiations became bogged down by various disagreements, particularly over the US missile defence shield plan that Russia opposes. Obama said the two sides had agreed to a "deeper dialogue" on the defence shield.
Russia has said it could opt out of the new treaty if it feels threatened by the shield and the Kremlin reaffirmed Thursday that the treaty will only be "capable of life" if the US limits missile defence.
The United States says its shield is meant to protect against the threat of attack from countries like Iran.
Russia argues however that the United States could eventually build an impenetrable shield that would allow a first strike on Russia without fear of retaliation.
The US-Russia treaty is being eagerly watched by other nuclear powers.
China on Thursday urged the United States to reduce its nuclear arsenal and pledged it would never instigate an atomic war, in a response to the new US nuclear policy.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: "We firmly pursue a nuclear strategy that is defensive in nature. We adhere to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances and at any time."
Date created : 2010-04-08