Obama takes first steps in reducing world's nuclear arsenal
U.S. allies on Wednesday lined up behind President Barack Obama’s new policy aimed at reducing the likelihood of nuclear conflict. But Iran — classified as a possible target under the guideliness — dismissed it as a “cowboy” policy by a political newcomer doomed to fail.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in the Slovak capital Bratislava for an official visit, did not address the issue before leaving for Prague to sign a landmark treaty Thursday with Obama aimed at paring U.S.-Russian strategic nuclear weapons by 30 percent. But Washington’s supporters in Asia and Europe welcomed Obama’s pledge Tuesday to reduce America’s nuclear arsenal, refrain from nuclear tests and not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them.
North Korea and Iran were not included in that pledge because they do not cooperate with other countries on nonproliferation standards.
The U.S. considers them nuclear rogues — Pyongyang for developing and testing nuclear weapons and Tehran because it is suspected of trying to do the same under the cover of a peaceful program, something Iran denies. Outlining the policy Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the focus would now be on terror groups such as al-Qaida as well as North Korea’s nuclear buildup and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Addressing thousands in the country’s northwest, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad derided Obama over the plan.
“American materialist politicians, whenever they are beaten by logic, immediately resort to their weapons like cowboys,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech before a crowd of several thousand in northwestern Iran.
“Mr. Obama, you are a newcomer (to politics). Wait until your sweat dries and get some experience. Be careful not to read just any paper put in front of you or repeat any statement recommended,” Ahmadinejad said in the speech, aired live on state TV.
Ahmadinejad said Obama “is under the pressure of capitalists and the Zionists” and vowed Iran would not be pushed around.
“(American officials) bigger than you, more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you,” he said, addressing Obama.
Washington’s key European partners on its efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear activities welcomed the Obama initiative.
British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth said it “delivers strong progress” on pledges first made a year ago, adding Britain “looks forward to working closely with the US and other key allies and partners in the future.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero of France, like Britain a nuclear weapons state that backs global disarmament efforts, said Obama’s nuclear posture “is convergent with our views.”
Hailing the U.S. policy review as a historic shift in U.S. nuclear strategy, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged Iran to see it — and Thursday’s planned Obama-Medvedev treaty signing — as a sign that the international community is “serious about disarmament.”
In Asia, key allies benefitting from being under the U.S. nuclear defense umbrella expressed support, suggesting the Obama statement helped defuse concerns that they would be left vulnerable by a change in Washington’s policy.
“This is a first step toward a nuclear-free world,” said Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. “Deterrence is important, but so is reducing nuclear arsenals.”
Katsuya Okada, Japan’s foreign minister, noted that Japan, which is located near North Korea, China and Russia but has decided not to develop nuclear weapons of its own, was concerned about how the policy will affect its security.
“The United States had assured its allies that this position will not endanger them,” he said. “This is important.”
In South Korea, the foreign and defense ministries issued a joint statement saying the new U.S. stance would strengthen Washington’s commitment to its allies and pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons development.
“The government welcomes and supports” Obama’s announcement, they said. There was no immediate reaction to Obama’s plan from North Korean state media.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also welcomed the announcement.
“President Obama made good on his pledge a year ago to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. security policies and set the world on a path to a nuclear-weapons-free world,” he said in a statement. “The review clearly states the long-term objective of U.S. policy is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, and implements the first of the actions that will be needed to get there.”
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai refused to comment on the new U.S. nuclear defense policy, which also calls on China to explain its nuclear intentions more clearly.
“China’s nuclear policy and China’s strategic intentions are clear. Since the 1960s we have repeated our position on many occasions and our position has never been changed,” Cui said, without elaborating. “I believe people with fair and just minds will not question China’s position.”
Beijing, which is said to have 100 nuclear warheads, has said it would not be the first to attack with nuclear weapons.
Chinese President Hu Jintao is to travel to Washington to take part in an April 12-13 nuclear summit that will focus on securing nuclear material to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The meeting is expected to bring together about 46 leaders.
Jahn reported from Bratislava, Slovakia. Associated Press writers Anita Chang, Angela Charlton, Eric Talmadge, Geir Moulson and Danica Kirka and researcher Zhao Liang contributed to this report from Europe and Asia.
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