June 19, 2013

Obama calls for reducing U.S., Russian nuclear stockpiles

By Julie Pace / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this photo provided by the German government's press office, German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to President Barack Obama at the chancellery in Berlin on Wednesday. In the background is the German Parliament building, the Reichstag.

AP

"This is the future we must avert," he said. "This is the global threat of our time."

Among those in the audience, Doro Zinke, president of the Berlin-Brandenburg trade union federation, said she heard nothing unexpected in Obama's speech.

"I think he's really got to deliver now," she said.

But others gave him credit for just coming to Berlin, five years into his presidency.

"The most important message here was that he came to Berlin and spoke to us and the world," said Catharina Haensch, a Berliner born in the communist east of the city who now works for the Fulbright Commission. "Even If it looks like he isn't able to fulfill all of his promises, you've got to keep on hoping."

Obama said he intends to seek negotiated nuclear arsenal cuts with Russia, thus steering away from any unilateral U.S. reductions. Moreover, Obama said he would work with NATO allies to seek "bold reductions" in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe. Obama could face objections among NATO countries where many strongly oppose removing U.S. nuclear weapons because they worry that the Russians have a far greater number of tactical nuclear weapons within range of their territory.

In Washington, reaction was mixed.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, welcomed Obama's announcement, saying that reducing nuclear stockpiles "will improve our national security, while maintaining our nuclear triad and our ability to deter and respond to any perceived or real nuclear threat.

But Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, accused Obama of appeasement in endorsing further reductions in nuclear weapons, saying the president "seems only concerned with winning the approval of nations like Russia, who will applaud a weakened United States."

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Secretary of State John Kerry called him on Tuesday and reassured him that any further reductions in nuclear weapons would not be done unilaterally. Rather, the cuts would be part of treaty negotiations subject to a Senate vote.

Corker criticized Obama's move without additional modernization of the arsenal.

"The president's announcement without first fulfilling commitments on modernization could amount to unilateral disarmament," Corker said. "The president should follow through on full modernization of the remaining arsenal and pledges to provide extended nuclear deterrence before engaging in any additional discussions."

The president discussed non-proliferation with Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met Monday on the sidelines of the Group of 8 summit in Northern Ireland. During Obama's first term, the U.S. and Russia agreed to limit their stockpiles to 1,550 as part of the New START Treaty.

In Moscow, Russian foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said that plans for any further arms reduction would have to involve countries beyond Russia and the United States.

"The situation is now far from what it was in the '60s and '70s, when only the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union discussed arms reduction," Ushakov said.

Obama's calls for cooperation with Moscow come at a time of tension between the U.S. and Russia, which are supporting opposite sides in Syria's civil war. Russia also remains wary of U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, despite U.S. assurances that the shield is not aimed at Moscow.

Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, is a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament and has long called for the removal of the last U.S. nuclear weapons from German territory, a legacy of the Cold War. The Buechel Air Base in western Germany is one of a few remaining sites in Europe where they are based.

Under an agreement drawn up when they formed a coalition government in 2009, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and Westerwelle's Free Democratic Party agreed to press NATO and Washington for the nuclear weapons to be withdrawn, but did not set any timeframe.

Nuclear stockpile numbers are closely guarded secrets in most nations that possess them, but private nuclear policy experts say no countries other than the U.S. and Russia are thought to have more than 300. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that France has about 300, China about 240, Britain about 225, and Israel, India and Pakistan roughly 100 each.

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