PRAGUE, April 8, 2010— -- With the stroke of two pens, President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed a new nuclear disarmament treaty in Prague today, replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that expired Dec. 5.
"This ceremony is a testament to the truth that old adversaries can forge new partnerships," President Obama said today from the Spanish Hall at Prague's presidential castle.
The United States and Russia -- the world's two nuclear superpowers -- are pledging to reduce their nuclear arms by a third, making the historic agreement the first of its kind in two decades. The setting -- signing the treaty in Prague -- served as a symbolic gesture as it was this city where just over a year ago Obama spoke about his vision of a de-nuclearized world.
The treaty requires both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals from 2,200 deployed warheads for each country to 1,550 over seven years, a 30 percent reduction from the last treaty. And they'll reduce their long-range missiles and launchers to 700 for each country as well.
"Today is an important milestone for nuclear security and non-proliferation, and for U.S.-Russia relations," Obama said at the signing today. "This day demonstrates the determination of the United States and Russia -- the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons -- to pursue responsible global leadership. Together, we are keeping our commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which must be the foundation of global non-proliferation."
Obama this morning was welcomed to Prague with pomp and celebrations. Prior to the treaty signing, Obama and Medvedev held a long meeting to discuss Iran and the situation in Kyrgyzstan, where clashes between the government and protestors Wednesday left numerous dead.
At the signing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entered first, looked up at the ornate room and could be seen saying "Wow."
After they signed the treaty, Obama and Medvedev looked at each other, shrugged and then laughed.
Today's signing comes just days after the White House announced the administration's new nuclear strategy, calling for the elimination of nuclear arms testing and development of new nuclear weapons. In what has perhaps been the most controversial point of the new policy is the United States' commitment to not use nuclear weapons against any country that has signed and is abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attack the United States with chemical or biological weapons.
Critics say both the new policy and the U.S.-Russia arms agreement sends the wrong message to Iran, even as Obama administration officials argue that it puts more pressure on Iran to stop its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The defiant Islamic state was high on Obama's priority list during his trip and meetings with state leaders. Both Obama and Medvedev pledged today to crack down on Iran with sanctions if it continues to advance its uranium enrichment program and pursue nuclear weapons.
"The United States and Russia are part of a coalition of nations insisting that the Islamic Republic of Iran face consequences, because they have continually failed to meet their obligations," Obama said. "We are working together at the UN Security Council to pass strong sanctions on Iran. And we will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT, risk an arms race in a vital region, and threaten the credibility of the international community and our collective security."
After the press conference, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said if sanctions were to be placed on Iran, they would have to be carefully considered and highly targeted.
"A total embargo on deliveries of refined oil products to Iran would mean a slap, a blow, a huge shock for the whole society. These types of things that shock the fundaments of a society are something that we definitely are not prepared to consider," Ryabkov told reporters.
White House officials countered that people talk about their red lines and bottom lines in all negotiations, and these discussions are no different.
"President Medvedev made publicly clear that he does not support sanctions that will lead to economic hardship for the Iranian people that would foment economic chaos or would lead to regime change," Michael McFaul, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russian Affairs, said today. "We actually agree with him on that."
U.S. officials agreed with the Russians that they want to use sanctions as a tool to change Iranian behavior. They refused to set more of a deadline for sanctions other than to say "in the broader context of spring."