US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have signed an agreement that would significantly cut each country's nuclear arsenal.
The treaty cuts the number of long-range warheads held by each country by a third
US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev sat side by side in the Prague Castle on Thursday and put their signatures to an agreement to reduce both countries' nuclear arsenals.
It was during a visit to the Czech capital last year that Obama presented his ambitions for a world without nuclear weapons.
The US and Russia possess about 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. The agreement they plan to sign today would reduce each country's count of strategic nuclear weapons by one-third to 1,550.
It would also slash the number of launching facilities, such as submarines and heavy bombers, by half, leaving about 800 for each country.
The treaty could increase the countries' credibility when pressing for arms reductions in other nations
Milestones and first steps
Obama called the treaty "an extraordinary event" but said it was also "one step on a longer journey… this treaty will set the stage for further cuts."
Medvedev hailed it as something that "enables us to rise to a higher level of cooperation between Russia and the United States."
In remarks after the signing, both leaders hailed the treaty as marking an important milestone for both nuclear disarmament and for relations between the two countries.
"This is a win-win situation," Medvedev said. "No one stands to lose from this agreement…The entire world community has won."
"The new start treaty is an important first step forward, but it is just one step on a longer journey…This treaty will set the stage for further efforts… to reduce tactical as well as strategic nuclear weapons," said Obama, who called the agreement evidence "that old adversaries can forge new partnerships."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the treaty as proof that the US and Russia are ready "to measure up to their responsibility in nuclear disarmament and arms control."
"Nuclear disarmament and the prevention of the uncontrolled spread of nuclear weapons are two sides of the same coin," Westerwelle said.
The treaty would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by the US and the Soviet Union in 1991. It must be ratified by the Russian Duma and US Senate before it can take effect, but both Obama and Medvedev have said they expect the bodies to approve it before the end of the year.
The signing comes ahead of next week's nuclear security summit in Washington and a meeting about the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in May. Obama said that the international community "will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT."
The treaty would cut the number of long-range missiles like this American Titan II
Steven Pifer, a Brookings Institution expert on arms control, said the pact would increase American credibility ahead of those meetings.
"If the United States and Russia were to show up with no agreement and between the two of them controlling 95 percent 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.
But critics say these reductions don't go far enough. The reductions do not apply to shorter-range tactical nuclear weapons, and both countries still have more than enough in their stockpiles to destroy each other.
Iran, Kyrgyzstan also on agenda
The meeting in Prague was also be an opportunity for both leaders to discuss foreign policy - Iran's atomic program and the possibility of new sanctions and the ongoing unrest in Kyrgyzstan.
Medvedev told reporters that he "cannot exclude" that the UN would have to consider tougher sanctions against Iran.
"Unfortunately Tehran is not reacting to an array of constructive compromise proposals," said Medvedev. "We cannot close our eyes to this."
Editor: Kyle James