New York Times, 08 aprilie a.c.
PRAGUE — With flourish and fanfare, President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia signed a nuclear arms control treaty on Thursday and opened what they hoped would be a new era in the tumultuous relationship between two former cold war adversaries.
Meeting here in the heart of a once-divided Europe, the two leaders put aside the acrimony that has characterized Russian-American ties in recent years as they agreed to bring down their arsenals and restore an inspection regime that expired in December. Along the way, they sidestepped unresolved disputes over missile defense and other issues.
“When the United States and Russia are not able to work together on big issues, it is not good for either of our nations, nor is it good for the world,” Mr. Obama said as his words echoed through a majestic, gilded hall in Prague Castle. “Together we have stopped the drift, and proven the benefits of cooperation. Today is an important milestone for nuclear security and nonproliferation, and for U.S.-Russia relations.” (foto: NY Times)
Mr. Medvedev called the treaty signing “a truly historic event” that will “open a new page” in Russian-American relations. “What matters most is this is a win-win situation,” he said. “No one stands to lose from this agreement. I believe this is a typical feature of our cooperation. Both parties have won.”
The Russian president signaled general support for the American-led drive to impose new sanctions on Iran, saying that Tehran’s nuclear program has flouted the international community. “We cannot turn a blind eye to this,” Mr. Medvedev said, while adding that sanctions “should be smart” and avoid hardship for the Iranian people.
Mr. Obama said he expected “to be able to secure strong, tough sanctions” on Iran during the spring.
The apparently warm relationship between the presidents was on display as they entered the hall to trumpet music. They whispered and smiled with each other in English as they sat side by side signing copies of the so-called New Start treaty, then traded compliments during a follow-up exchange with reporters.
Mr. Obama called the Russian a “friend and partner” and said, “Without his personal efforts and strong leadership, we would not be here today.” For his part, Mr. Medvedev said the two had developed a “very good personal relationship and a very good personal chemistry, as they say.”
While the treaty will mandate only modest reductions in the actual arsenals maintained by the two countries, it caps a turnaround in relations with Moscow that sank to rock bottom in August 2008 during the war between Russia and its tiny southern neighbor, Georgia. When he arrived in office, Mr. Obama made restoring the relationship a priority, a goal that coincided with his vision expressed here a year ago of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
Even as the two presidents hailed the treaty, however, they found no common ground on American plans to build an antimissile shield in Europe to counter any Iranian threat. Mr. Obama refused Russian demands to include limits on missile defense in the treaty, nearly scuttling the agreement. In the days leading up to the ceremony here, Russian officials alternately claimed the agreement would bind the program or complained that it did not and threatened to withdraw if it went forward.
The treaty, if ratified by lawmakers in both countries, would require each country to deploy no more than 1,550 strategic warheads, down from 2,200 allowed in the Treaty of Moscow signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. Each would be limited to 800 total land-, air- and sea-based launchers — 700 of which can be deployed at any given time — down from 1,600 permitted under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, or Start.
Because of counting rules and unilateral reductions over the years, neither country would have to actually eliminate large numbers of weapons to meet the new limits. Moreover, the treaty does not apply to whole categories of weapons, including thousands of strategic warheads held in reserve and tactical warheads, some of which are still stationed in Europe.
But the treaty would re-establish an inspection regime that lapsed along with Start last December and bring the two countries back into a legal framework after years of tension. Moreover, both sides hope to use it as a foundation for a new round of negotiations that could lead to much deeper reductions that will cover weapons like stored or tactical warheads.
The first task for Mr. Obama after returning to Washington will be persuading the Senate to ratify the new treaty, and advisers planned to head to Capitol Hill on Thursday, even before his return, to brief Senate staff members.
Ratification requires a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators, meaning the president needs at least eight Republicans. The White House is counting on the support of Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and one of his party’s most respected voices on international affairs, to clear the way.
But it could still have to contend with skeptics like Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican whip, who have expressed concern about limiting American defenses. And the polarized politics of Washington heading into a midterm election are volatile, meaning a vote could be delayed until after the election, which would further put off other elements of Mr. Obama’s antinuclear agenda, such as consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The White House wants a vote by the end of the year, and Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, reminded reporters on Air Force One during the flight here that past arms control treaties have received near-unanimous votes. “We are hopeful that reducing the threat of nuclear weapons remains a priority for both parties,” he said.
But what he did not note is that the Senate has also rejected an arms control agreement in recent times, refusing to ratify the test ban treaty when it was originally brought up in 1999. Moreover, it took three years in the 1990s to ratify the first Start follow-up treaty, known as Start 2, which never went into force because of a dispute over Russian conditions attached during its own ratification process.
Mr. Obama hopes to use the trust built during the treaty negotiations to leverage more cooperation from Moscow on other issues, most notably pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear program.
Speaking after signing the treaty with Mr. Medvedev, Mr. Obama said the United States and Russia were “part of a coalition of nations insisting that the Islamic Republic of Iran face consequences, because they have continually failed to meet their obligations” under international rules governing the use of nuclear materials.
“Those nations that refuse to meet their obligations will be isolated, and denied the opportunity that comes with international integration,” he said. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, but the United States and its western allies suspect Tehran wants to build a nuclear weapon.
Warmer relations with the Kremlin worry American allies in Central and Eastern Europe, which were already concerned that Mr. Obama’s decision last year to scrap Mr. Bush’s missile defense plan in favor of a reformulated architecture was seen as a concession to Moscow.
Hoping to soothe those concerns, Mr. Obama plans to have dinner Thursday night in Prague with 11 leaders from the region, including the presidents or prime ministers of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Similarly, Mr. Obama made sure before leaving Washington to speak by phone with President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia to reassure him of American support. He will meet separately with Czech leaders on Friday morning before returning to Washington.
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris, and Dan Bilefsky from Prague.