Prague set to host signing of US-Russian nuclear arms treaty

Barack Obama, April 5, 2009

In two weeks’ time, news crews from around the world are set to descend on the Czech capital for the signing of an important deal between the United States and Russia on reducing their nuclear arsenals. The planned summit comes a year after America’s president, Barack Obama, outlined his policy on arms control in a major speech at Prague Castle.

Barack Obama,  April 5,  2009,  photo: Štěpánka Budková
On April 5 2009, the then freshly inaugurated Barack Obama made a keynote speech on arms control in front of a large crowd at Prague Castle. The US president described the existence of thousands of nuclear weapons as the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War, and described the “trajectory we need to be on”:

“To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defence to our allies – including the Czech Republic. But we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal.”

Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev,  photo:
Now, almost a year to the day since that address, President Obama is due to return to the Czech capital on April 8 to sign a major agreement on weapons reduction with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev. The move precedes a nuclear security conference Mr Obama is hosting in Washington on April 12.

Washington and Moscow are close to completing a fresh version of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START. It expired at the end of last year, but remains in force pending a new agreement. The new treaty would see the biggest ever single cut in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.

There had been speculation for several months over where the signing would take place, with Kiev and Bratislava mentioned alongside Prague as a possible venue. In the end, the Czech capital appealed to the Americans as a chance to return to the scene of last April’s speech. What’s more, the Czechs are NATO allies.

As for Moscow, Prague was for decades in its sphere of influence, and the Russians enjoy warm relations with the Czech president, Václav Klaus.

Details of where exactly the signing should take place on April 8 have not yet been made clear, though there has been speculation that Prague Castle will host the summit.