Obama challenges Russia to agree to deeper nuclear weapon cuts

BERLIN,  (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama used a speech in Berlin yesterday to call on Russia to revive the push for a world without nuclear weapons, offering to cut deployed nuclear arsenals by a third, but Moscow immediately poured scorn on his proposal.

Speaking in Berlin where U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan gave rousing Cold-War speeches, Obama urged Russia to help build on the “New START” treaty that requires Moscow and Waashington to cut stockpiles of deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 each by 2018.

The speech, a day after Obama met Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit where they disagreed publicly about Syria, was given a frosty reception by Moscow which said it could “not take such proposals seriously” while Washington was beefing up its anti-missile defences.

“After a comprehensive review, I have determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one third,” Obama said.

“I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures,” he said at the Brandenburg Gate, which once overlooked the Berlin Wall that divided the communist east and the capitalist west.

Russia says U.S. plans for anti-missile defences harm the goal of arms reduction by requiring Moscow to hold more missiles or lose its deterrent capability.

“How can we take the idea of strategic nuclear weapons reductions seriously when the United States is building up its ability to intercept these strategic nuclear weapons?” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said.

“These things clearly do not go together. It’s obvious that Russia’s highest political leadership cannot take such proposals seriously,” Rogozin told reporters.

Obama’s vision of a “world without nuclear weapons” set out in a speech in Prague in 2009, three months into his presidency,  earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his mixed results so far have fuelled criticism that the prize may have been premature.

Experts said reducing the nuclear arsenal makes strategic and economic sense. But Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Obama faces major obstacles “including a recalcitrant Russia and a reluctant Senate.”

Following Obama’s speech, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined the change in nuclear strategy in a 10-page report to the U.S. Congress that called for the Pentagon to reduce its reliance on atomic weapons in military planning and boost the role of non-nuclear strike capability.

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