President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sealed a new nuclear arms reduction treaty during a phone call Friday, committing the two nations to a significant new reduction of the strategic missiles each side has deployed, U.S. officials announced.
Flanked by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama announced the agreement to reporters at the White House, calling it a historic step toward a world without nuclear weapons.
Obama called nuclear weapons "the darkest days of the Cold War and the most troubling threats of our time." He hailed the treaty as the start of a new effort to rid the world of that threat.
"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," he said.
After speaking with Medvedev, Obama said he will travel to Prague on April 8 to sign the treaty with the Russian leader, noting that the historic event will come just a week before he hosts a summit in Washington on how to control the spread of nuclear material around the world.
He also praised what he said was an improving relationship with Russia.
"We have turned words into action. We have made progress that is clear and concrete," Obama said. "And we have demonstrated the importance of American leadership -- and American partnership -- on behalf of our own security, and the world's."
The treaty, which faces ratification by the U.S. Senate and Russia's legislature, would replace a 19-year-old pact that called for both countries to draw down their dangerous arsenals of thousands of long-range nuclear weapons.
The new deal took shape after months of negotiations that stretched on far longer than officials had expected. The 1991 START treaty expired in early December of last year, forcing the presidents of both countries to pledge they would abide by its parameters until a new treaty could be forged.
The treaty calls for both sides to reduce the stockpiles of their most dangerous weapons -- those already deployed and ready to launch at long-range targets -- by about 30 percent, allowing each side to retain about 1,550 such warheads.
It also limits deployed and nondeployed missile launchers and heavy bombers to 800 and says that each side may only have 700 of such equipment already deployed -- a cut in half from the limits in the previous treaty.
Administration officials described the achievement as a hard-fought victory in Obama's efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. In a speech in Prague last year, Obama pledged that the United States would lead by negotiating the new treaty with Russia.
But the deal faces skepticism in the Senate, where it will need Republican support to get the 67 votes required for ratification. Several key GOP senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have expressed concerns about the treaty's impact on the U.S. missile defense program.