US, Russian leaders sign new arms control deal in Prague

Barack Obama (vlevo) a Dmitrij Medveděv, foto: Štěpánka Budková

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a landmark nuclear arms control deal in Prague on Thursday. The new START treaty, which took nearly a year to negotiate, will reduce the two countries’ nuclear arsenals by roughly 30 percent more than the previous deal. Both leaders also said they hoped the treaty would pave the way for further weapons cuts.

US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a new treaty on the reduction of their countries’ strategic nuclear weapons in the historic Spanish Hall at Prague Castle, one year after Mr Obama delivered his keynote speech on nuclear disarmament in the Czech capital.

Barack Obama,  Dmitry Medvedev  (right),  photo: Milena Štráfeldová
Under the new deal, the former Cold War adversaries will be limited to 1550 nuclear warheads, which is around 30 percent fewer than the ceiling set by the previous Sort agreement both countries signed in 2002.

The new START also slashes nuclear missile launchers; each country will be able to keep 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear arms.

Speaking after the signing ceremony, President Obama said he hoped the new pact would pave the way for nuclear disarmament.

“While the new START treaty is an important step forward, it is just one step on a longer journey. As I said last year in Prague, this treaty will set the stage for further cuts. And going forward, we hope to pursue discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons.”

Ahead of the signing, the two leaders met for talks behind closed doors to discuss the nuclear program of Iran, and the outbreak of violence in Kyrgyzstan. Barack Obama said countries like Iran, which do not follow the rules, will face increasing isolation. He also called for “strong and smart” sanctions to be imposed on Tehran over its refusal to give up its nuclear ambitions, a commitment shared by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian leader also hailed the new agreement as a new chapter in cooperation between their countries.

One of the issues for further debate between Washington and Moscow is the US missile defense project, whose elements the former Bush administration was planning to deploy in the Czech Republic and Poland. Barack Obama scrapped the plan last year, but refused to have it included in the new treaty, which significantly prolonged the negotiations.

“We recognize that Russia has a significant interest in this issue, and we have committed to engaging in a significant discussion, not only bilaterally but also with our European allies and others about a framework in which we can potentially cooperate on issues of missile defense in way that preserves US national security interests, Russia’s national security interests, and allows us to guard against rouge missiles from any source.”

Václav Klaus,  Barack Obama  (right),  photo: Štěpánka Budková
While Russian President Dmitry Medvedev left Prague on Thursday afternoon, Mr Obama is staying until Friday. He is hosting a dinner for the leaders of 11 central and eastern European countries on Thursday night, apparently to dispel concerns about the re-setting of US-Russian relations and the possible implications for the region. He is also set to meet for talks with Czech President Václav Klaus and PM Jan Fischer before leaving for Washington on Friday morning.