Prague: The United States and Russia signed a landmark strategic nuclear disarmament treaty on Thursday and said new sanctions may be necessary to put pressure on Iran to renounce its nuclear ambitions.
Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the pact at a ceremony in the mediaeval Prague Castle after talks that covered nuclear security, Iran’s atomic programme and an uprising in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan, where both major powers have military bases.
The treaty will cut strategic nuclear arsenals deployed by the former Cold War foes by 30% within seven years, but leave each with enough to destroy the other.
Obama said the agreement had “ended the drift” in relations between Moscow and Washington and sent a strong signal that the two powers that together possess 90% of all atomic weapons were taking their disarmament obligations seriously.
“We are working together at the United Nations Security Council to pass strong sanctions on Iran and we will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT,” he said, referring to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“My expectation is that we are going to be able to secure strong, tough sanctions on Iran this Spring,” he added.
Medvedev said he regretted Tehran had not reacted to constructive proposals on its nuclear programme and the Security Council might have to take further sanctions, but they should be “smart” and not bring disaster on the Iranian people.
“Today we had a very open, frank and straight foward discussion of what can be done and cannot be done,” the Russian president said, adding he gave Obama a list of Moscow’s limits.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov declined to detail the list but told reporters a total embargo on deliveries of refined oil products to Iran, for example, would be unacceptable since it would cause a “huge shock for the whole society and the whole population”.
The situation in Kyrgyzstan, where opposition protesters forced out President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Wednesday, thrust its way on to the agenda as both Washington and Moscow have military bases in the poor Central Asian state. The US base at Manas is vital for supplying NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin effectively recognised the interim Kyrgyz government formed by opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva on Thursday, speaking to her by telephone, his spokesman said. The State Department declined immediate comment on whether Washington would follow suit.
US Shifts Doctrine
Obama this week announced a shift in US nuclear doctrine, pledging never to use atomic weapons against non-nuclear states, as he sought to build momentum for an 12-13 April nuclear security summit in Washington.
The US president reaffirmed the long-term goal he set in a speech at the same Prague Castle a year ago to work towards a world without nuclear weapons and said Medvedev would visit the United States later this year to discuss further cooperation, including withdrawing short-range tactical nuclear weapons.
Both men said they hoped and expected the new treaty would be ratified this year. Medvedev, mindful of past problems in winning approval in the treaty-shy US Senate, said the ratification process should “proceed simultaneously”. Obama said he was convinced there would be bipartisan Senate support.
Medvedev reaffirmed Moscow’s warning that it could withdraw from the treaty if US missile defence plans undermined the basis for strategic arms control.
Analysts said the signing would help Obama build pressure on Tehran, along with the 47-nation nuclear summit in Washington and a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao next week.
Steven Pifer, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution, said the pact with Russia would give the US delegation more credibility at the non-proliferation conference.
“If the United States and Russia were to show up with no agreement and between the two of them controlling 95% of the weapons, it’s pretty easy for the non-nuclear states to say, ‘well you’re not doing your part, why should we?´,” Pifer said.
Obama’s new nuclear strategy document broke with former president George W. Bush’s threat of nuclear retaliation in the event of a biological or chemical attack.
The assurance applies only to countries in compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, so Iran and North Korea would not receive that commitment.
Washington and Moscow have plenty of differences on issues ranging from Iran to missile defence, but the two leaders strove to highlight common ground, including on economic cooperation. However, they did not mention Russia’s stalled bid to join the World Trade Organisation.
Obama has put a priority on trying to “reset” relations with Moscow that hit a post-Cold War low during Russia’s 2008 war with Georgia, and the treaty could help that.
The successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would limit operationally deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550, down nearly two-thirds from START I.
Later on Thursday, Obama will dine with 11 heads of state from central and eastern Europe. Czech diplomats said the meeting was designed to reassure former Soviet bloc countries that resetting relations with Russia would not diminish US interests in the region.