US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has launched a major plan to end the spread of nuclear arms, addressing the problems posed by Iran’s nuclear programme and putting the ball firmly in Russia’s court.
He announced his comprehensive programme in Prague just hours after North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket of the type capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
After praising the Czechs’ long struggle for freedom, he dashed their hopes of changing the Bush administration’s plan to base a nuclear missile base outside Prague — a plan more than 70% of Czechs and their parliament oppose.
But in what is probably a first for a US president, he came close to apologising for being the only country to use nuclear arms, saying that it gave his country a “moral responsibility” to take the lead in ridding the world of such devastating weapons.
He repeated his pledge to engage with Iran, supporting its right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. But he toughened his words on the Islamic republic, while at the same time dealing with the issue of the Czech missile base.
“Let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbours and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defence against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defence system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defence construction in Europe at this time will be removed.”
In this way he also put pressure on Russia that supplies Iran with materials for its nuclear programme and has prevented tough sanctions against the country in the UN Security Council. The message is that if the Russians help remove the Iranian threat, then the missile bases in Czech and Poland that they object to will also be removed.
Last week, after his discussions with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama said they would negotiate a new arms reduction treaty by the end of this year.
He spelt out a much more comprehensive plan yesterday, however. “Our efforts to contain these dangers are centred in a global non-proliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point when the centre cannot hold,” Obama told about 25,000 people outside Prague Castle.
Obama hopes an agreement with Russia on a new strategic arms reduction treaty by the end of the year will set the stage for further cuts and committed his administration to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the US senate.
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