JIM LEHRER: Russia and the United States today formalized the most sweeping nuclear arms deal in a generation. They also opened a potential new era in relations between the two old Cold War enemies.
President Obama was welcomed to the sprawling hilltop Prague castle, a landmark in a nation once occupied by Soviet troops, and now a member of NATO. It was here, one year ago, that Mr. Obama outlined his vision for a nuclear-free world.
And, today, one stepping-stone toward that goal was reached: a new strategic arms treaty with Russia that draws down U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals by about a third. The two presidents signed the agreement with great ceremony. Then they hailed the accomplishment reached after a year of negotiations in remarks that echoed across the castle hall.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This day demonstrates the determination of the United States and Russia — the two nations that hold over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons — to pursue responsible global leadership.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV, Russian president (through translator): This is a win-win situation. No one stands to lose from this agreement. I believe that this is a typical feature of our cooperation. Both parties have won. And taking into account this victory of ours, the entire world community has won.
JIM LEHRER: If ratified, the treaty would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expired last December. And the U.S. and Russian arsenals would drop to levels last seen in the 1960s.
Under the deal, both countries must cut their deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 apiece. Ballistic missile launchers and bombers will be capped at 800 for each nation. And, of those, only 700 could be deployed. The two countries would also be responsible for verifying each other’s cuts.
The presidents also marked the deal as a major step forward for U.S./Russian relations, strained since Russia’s brief war with Georgia in 2008.
BARACK OBAMA: When the United States and Russia are not able to work together on big issues, it’s not good for either of our nations, nor is it good for the world. Together, we’ve stopped that drift, and proven the benefits of cooperation.
JIM LEHRER: In another sign of cooperation, they pledged to seek new sanctions for Iran, if the Islamic republic fails to halt its nuclear program. And they agreed to work toward further cuts in their own arsenals.
First, though, the new treaty must be ratified, something the Russian parliament is expected to do without much opposition. The road in the U.S. Senate could be tougher, because a two-thirds majority is required.
BARACK OBAMA: I’m actually quite confident that Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate, having reviewed this, will see that the United States has preserved its core national security interests, that it is maintaining a safe and secure and effective nuclear deterrent.
JIM LEHRER: Next week, leaders from more than 40 nations will gather in Washington for a summit focusing on securing their nuclear materials. And, in May, the U.S. will join in a United Nations conference to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.