Obama, Medvedev meet before signing arms control treaty (Lead)

April 8th, 2010 - 5:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Prague, April 8 (DPA) US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev met at Prague Castle in the Czech capital Thursday for the signing of a new nuclear arms reduction pact.
The two leaders are set to ink a pact under which their countries would be obliged to reduce their nuclear arsenals. The deal is to replace the expired 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) if ratified by the US Senate and Russian Duma.

The presidents posed for photographs in the castle’s sunlit gardens and proceeded to hold bilateral talks before the signing ceremony.

Obama outlined his ambitious vision to rid the world of nuclear arms about a year ago in Prague. The new treaty is seen as the first tangible feat of his disarmament policy.

The US and Russia own around 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arms and their leaders have said the treaty would set an example for other countries, which have nuclear weapons or intend to obtain them.

After his arrival in Prague Wednesday, Medvedev called the deal a key document that will shape global disarmament efforts.

Under the new agreement, the two powers would cut their strategic warheads to 1,550 each, or about one-third below current levels. The launchers, including submarines and heavy bombers, would be cut by a half to a total of 800 per country.

But critics have said that the commitments outlined in the deal, whose full text is yet to be released, are too modest and do not go far enough to motivate other countries to disarm.

Obama’s vision and the pact’s clout will be soon put to the first test.

The signing comes ahead of a high-level nuclear safety summit in Washington April 12-13 and a five-yearly UN conference in May to evaluate adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Obama has presented the treaty’s completion, after more than a year of tough Geneva-based talks, as a display of a new start in US-Russian relations, which became tense under the administration of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The two countries, however, remain divided over US plans to develop a missile defence system, whose parts could be based in Eastern Europe.

In addition, he is set to meet leaders of 11 former Eastern Bloc countries over dinner in Prague in a bid to remove worries in the ex-Soviet region from his warming up to Russia.

Meanwhile, Prague appears to enjoy basking in the international spotlight. The most-red Czech daily, Mlada Fronta Dnes, Thursday carried the headline “24 hours at the centre of the world”.

Up to 5,000 policeman were summoned to patrol the city streets, dozens of which are shut down to traffic during the one-day summit, which was hastily organised within some two weeks.

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