Prague: After nearly a year of tough negotiations, US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday signed “New Start Treaty” to cut nuclear arms.
Inked in the Czech capital, Prague, the pact between the two former Cold War foes would shrink the nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads over seven years. That`s about a third less than the 2,200 currently permitted.
The signing has symbolised cooperation between Washington and Moscow — which between them own more than 90 percent of the world`s nuclear weapons — for the sake of global security.
Both Presidents say new cuts in the largest arsenals on the planet are a step toward a world without nuclear weapons and a signal to nations seeking them that there is no need.
In a lavish chamber within the Czech capital`s presidential castle complex, the two Presidents put their names to history. It is the same place where Obama gave his historic speech a year ago about his desire for a world without nuclear bombs.
"Today is an important milestone for nuclear security and non-proliferation, and for US-Russia relations," Obama said. He added that the new treaty paves the way for further arms cuts and hailed the signing as one step ahead on longer journey. It is critical for us to show significant leadership, the US President added.
“Our concerns are nuclear terrorism and non-proliferation.”
The Russian President, meanwhile, praised the signing as a historic event that would launch a new chapter of cooperation between the countries.
"The result we have obtained is good," Medvedev said, adding the new treaty represents a `win-win` situation.
Inside the hall, the anticipated moment came as the two Presidents picked up their pens, glanced at each other and grinned as they signed several documents, with aides transferring the papers back and forth so all would have both signatures. When it was done, the leaders seemed momentarily at a loss, with Medvedev flashing a smile and a shrug before they stood to shake hands.
Obama said the treaty sets a foundation for further cuts in nuclear arms.
And he pledged more talks with Medvedev about missile defence, which remains a sticky issue between the countries as the US moves ahead with plans it calls no threat to Russia.
The missile defence system envisioned is not aimed at changing the "strategic balance" with Russia but rather as a way to counter launches from other countries.
Medvedev said he was optimistic about reaching a compromise on the matter.
But the successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) will not come into force without ratification by lawmakers in both countries, and could face a rough ride in the US Senate. In his speech, Obama said that he looks forward to US Senate for the ratification later this year.
Analysts say it will be no cure-all for Russian-American relations, which have improved after hitting a post-Soviet low during Russia`s 2008 war with Georgia but remain troubled by a range of disputes.
Neither will the START successor deal resolve simmering tension over missile defence, which has haunted ties since the Reagan era and hurt them badly in the past decade.
The Kremlin`s top foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said on Friday that Russia would underscore its right to bow out of the pact in response to US missile defences in a unilateral declaration alongside the treaty, Russian news agencies reported.
(With Agencies` inputs)