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US-Russia reach agreement on START

From NBC's Athena Jones
Calling it the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades, President Obama today announced a new START Treaty with Russia that would cut the number of nuclear weapons each country deploys by roughly a third.

Under the new agreement, which would bring these weapons levels "significantly below" those agreed to in the 1991 START Treaty or the 2002 Moscow Treaty, each country will be limited to 1,550 deployed warheads; 800 deployed and non-deployed intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine launched ballistic missile launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear weapons; and 700 for deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen joined Obama at this morning's announcement, each delivering a brief statement.

Ridding the world of nuclear weapons has long been a goal for Obama, albeit one he said might not happen in his lifetime. The new treaty, which he and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will sign in Prague on April 8, brings that goal one step closer. This morning's conversation between the two presidents was their 14th direct meeting or phone call to discuss the topic. And both Obama and Clinton stressed that today's agreement was a result of efforts to strengthen the "very complex" U.S.-Russia relationship. Obama also touched on the two country's work together on issues including Afghanistan, the economy, and Iran.

"Today, we have reached agreement on one of my administration's top national security priorities -- a pivotal new arms control agreement," Obama said. "With this agreement, the United States and Russia -- the two largest nuclear powers in the world -- also send a clear signal that we intend to lead. By upholding our own commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities."

The president is hosting a nuclear security summit in Washington in April, which will bring together leaders from more than 40 nations in what Clinton called "the largest gathering of international leaders probably since the end of World War II in the United States".

The new START Treaty is set to last for 10 years unless superseded by a subsequent agreement, and it may be extended by five years. It must be ratified by the Senate, but the administration expressed confidence that it would get bipartisan support.

"There is a long tradition of bipartisan leadership on arms control," Obama said. "Presidents of both parties have recognized the necessity of securing and reducing these weapons. Statesmen like George Shultz, Sam Nunn, Henry Kissinger, and Bill Perry have been outspoken in their support of more assertive action."