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Obama Issues Assurances on New START

Russian Nuclear Missile on Mobile Launcher Near WoodsPresident Obama in a statement to the U.S. Senate yesterday issued several assurances on his administration's plans for implementing a new strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia (see GSN, Feb. 2).

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START last April. The pact would require Moscow and Washington to each cap their deployed strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550, down from a limit of 2,200 required by 2012 under an earlier treaty. It also would set a ceiling of 700 deployed warhead delivery systems, with another 100 allowed in reserve.

Obama yesterday signed off a nonbinding ratification text in which the Senate placed a number of conditions on its endorsement of New START. Medvedev last week inked a similar document prepared by Russia's legislature.

The U.S. president certified his country was technically capable of implementing the treaty's monitoring terms, and that the pact would not require the United States to share flight data from satellite liftoffs or tests of missile interceptors and target missiles.

Obama also reaffirmed his intention to revamp the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.

"I intend to ... modernize or replace the triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems" -- including land-, sea- and air-based platforms -- and to "maintain the United States rocket motor industrial base," he said in the statement.

He vowed to "accelerate, to the extent possible, the design and engineering phase" for two new nuclear-weapon facilities -- the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement building at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee -- and to "request full funding, including on a multiyear basis as appropriate, for the CMRR building and the UPF upon completion of the design and engineering phase" (see GSN, Jan. 20).

The president formalized his pledge to "not more than one year" after New START's entry into force pursue discussions with Russia on curbing battlefield nuclear-weapon deployments. Russia is believed to hold roughly 2,000 deployed tactical nuclear weapons within its borders, whereas the United States maintains a fraction of that number in Europe, according to previous reports (see GSN, Jan. 18).

Obama reaffirmed U.S. missile defense plans and questioned Russian threats to withdraw from New START if it deems future U.S. antimissile deployments to pose an unacceptable strategic risk.

"While the United States cannot circumscribe the sovereign rights of the Russian Federation" under New START, "the United States believes continued improvement and deployment of United States missile defense systems do not constitute a basis for questioning the effectiveness and viability of the treaty, and therefore would not give rise to circumstances justifying the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the treaty," he said in the statement (White House release, Feb. 2).

Within 60 days of the treaty's anticipated entry into force on Saturday, the United States and Russia would each be entitled to conduct snap audits of nuclear sites belonging to the other signatory nation, said Edward Warner, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's representative to talks on the pact.

"One of the crucial pieces of the more recent arms reduction treaties, beginning with the START I treaty in the early 1990s, has been the provision for verification," Warner said in a Pentagon press release. Previous monitoring of nuclear facilities ended following the original START's expiration in late 2009, he noted.

Washington and Moscow could each conduct 18 snap audits annually for one decade, "giving both sides the opportunity to confirm that the other side is complying with the provisions of the treaty," Warner said

New START mandates that each U.S. and Russian strategic delivery system receive a unique identification tag to aid in monitoring. Warner said.

"That unique identifier is in the database," he said. "It's provided during the preinspection briefing, and when inspectors go to inspect the individual items they are able to check that number" (U.S. Defense Department release, Feb. 2).

Moscow has identified 35 facilities that would be open to U.S. monitoring under the treaty, ITAR-Tass quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller as saying late last year (ITAR-Tass, Feb. 3).

Negotiating limitations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons "will be very much a challenge," Warner said in the Pentagon release, "because virtually all of these weapons are in secure storage areas, and one of our highest priorities has been ... to cooperate with the Russians through the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program to help finance improved security arrangements."

"So on one hand," Warner said, "we want to make sure they're safe and secure, and on the other hand, we want to bring them into the negotiating process in order to reduce the overall numbers."

"I think it is commonly agreed that [tactical nuclear weapons] ought to be limited as well," he said, "and people from both sides will be exploring, at official and nonofficial levels, how one might construct a treaty that would limit all nuclear warheads."

"We have never limited the full set of strategic nuclear weapons themselves before," Warner said, "so this will be virgin territory."

Future arms control could also encompass other nuclear-armed states, Warner said. China, France and the United Kingdom are recognized as nuclear powers, while India, Israel and Pakistan are also known or widely assumed to hold such weapons.

"If you take the numbers down enough on the arsenals of Russia and the United States, then the other declared -- and some undeclared -- nuclear powers are likely to have to come into the equation," according to Warner. "There's probably one more major bilateral nuclear arms reduction negotiation, and hopefully, agreement ahead between the United States and Russia" (U.S. Defense Department release).

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