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International leaders urge Obama to back nuke ban


By BARRY SCHWEID, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's first meeting next week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is a historic opportunity to set a course for the elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide, a group of some 100 international leaders said Thursday.

Obama and Medvedev, who will meet in London on the eve of a summit on the world economic crisis, should begin by agreeing on dramatic reductions of U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, the Global Zero group said in a letter delivered to the White House.

The group includes former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., former U.S. negotiator Richard Burt, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering and former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

"We are urging the two presidents to seize this historic opportunity to confront the most urgent security threat to our world: the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the related risk of nuclear terrorism," Hagel said.

Obama, as a candidate, and Medvedev both have expressed support for deep reductions in nuclear weapons. The likely vehicle is the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires at the end of the year.

The treaty limited the United States and Russia to 6,000 nuclear warheads each. The U.S. stockpile today is believed to be about 2,300 warheads, and the Russians' even lower.

The German ambassador to Washington, Klaus Scharioth, said at a news conference Wednesday at the Atlantic Council, a nonprofit think tank, that "I get the feeling from Russia they are very interested in START," the acronym for the treaty.

Hagel, once mentioned as a possible member of Obama's Cabinet, and Burt met with Medvedev in Moscow this month to discuss the elimination of nuclear weapons and other foreign policy issues. They gave letters to him, and to the White House later on, urging bold action.

More than 90 Global Zero members co-signed the letters.

"The two leaders can move beyond traditional arms control and, in a bold move, set the world on a course toward the total elimination of all nuclear weapons — global zero," Hagel said.

"This will not happen quickly, easily and unilaterally." he said. "Getting to global zero will require the reduction of all nations' nuclear arsenals over many years. It is important to begin now, and set the world on a new course."

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And from the New York Times:

Editorial
Watershed Moment on Nuclear Arms

During the 2008 campaign, President Obama promised to deal with one of the world’s great scourges — thousands of nuclear weapons still in the American and Russian arsenals. He said he would resume arms-control negotiations — the sort that former President George W. Bush disdained — and seek deep cuts in pursuit of an eventual nuclear-free world. There is no time to waste.

In less than nine months, the 1991 Start I treaty expires. It contains the basic rules of verification that give both Moscow and Washington the confidence that they know the size and location of the other’s nuclear forces.

The Bush administration made little effort to work out a replacement deal. So we are encouraged that American and Russian officials seem to want a new agreement. Given the many strains in the relationship, it will take a strong commitment from both sides, and persistent diplomacy, to get one in time.

When President Obama meets Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, in London on April 1, the two should commit to begin talks immediately and give their negotiators a deadline for finishing up before Dec. 5. For that to happen, the Senate must quickly confirm Mr. Obama’s negotiator, Rose Gottemoeller, so she can start work.

Mr. Bush and then-President Vladimir Putin signed only one arms-control agreement in eight years. It allowed both sides to keep between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed warheads. Further cuts — 1,000 each makes sense for the next phase — would send a clear message to Iran, North Korea and other wannabes that the world’s two main nuclear powers are placing less value on nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev should also pledge that these negotiations are just a down payment on a more ambitious effort to reduce their arsenals and rid the world of nuclear weapons. The next round should aim to bring Britain, France and China into the discussions. In time, they will have to cajole and wrestle India, Pakistan and Israel to the table as well.

There is a lot President Obama can do right now to create momentum for serious change. We hope his expected speech on nuclear weapons next month is bold.

He can start by unilaterally taking all of this country’s nuclear weapons off of hair-trigger alert. He should also commit to eliminating the 200 to 300 short-range nuclear weapons this country still has deployed in Europe. That would make it much easier to challenge Russia to reduce its stockpile of at least 3,000 short-range weapons. These arms are unregulated by any treaty and are far too vulnerable to theft.

Mr. Obama must also declare his commitment to include all nuclear weapons in negotiated reductions — including thousands of warheads that are now held in reserve and excluded from cuts. And he must make good on promises to press the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (opponents are already quietly organizing) and the international community to adopt a pact ending production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

Mr. Obama must reaffirm his campaign pledge to transform American nuclear policy that is still mired in cold war thinking. His administration’s nuclear review is due by year’s end. It must make clear that this country has nuclear weapons solely to deter a nuclear attack — and that this administration’s goal is to keep as few as possible as safely as possible. The review must also state clearly that the country has no need for a new nuclear weapon and will not build any.

Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia and the United States together still have more than 20,000 nuclear weapons. It is time to focus on the 21st-century threats: states like Iran building nuclear weapons and terrorists plotting to acquire their own. Until this country convincingly redraws its own nuclear strategy and reduces its arsenal, it will not have the credibility and political weight to confront those threats.

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