Obama, Medvedev to sign nuclear treaty Thursday in Prague

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- President Obama flew to Prague on Wednesday to join Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in signing a treaty they both have hailed as a major step forward on arms control and U.S.-Russian relations.

The formal signing of the pact, called the New Start treaty, was scheduled to take place at the medieval Prague Castle early Thursday, and is designed to take U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to their smallest sizes since the early 1960s.

The White House said the treaty will lower the number of long-range deployed nuclear warheads by 30%, although some private analysts insist the actual reduction will be much smaller.

Both leaders have gotten a political boost from the treaty after years of frictions between the two governments. But other subjects in the day’s talks point to difficulties that still challenge the relationship.

Obama and Medvedev were expected to discuss ways to pressure Iran to limit its nuclear program. Western leaders believe that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although Iranian officials say they are interested only in peaceful uses of atomic power.

In the view of U.S. officials, Russia has taken a more cooperative attitude on proposed sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, but it remains unclear whether Moscow will sign on to the tough measures the Americans and other Western leaders prefer.

Later Thursday, Obama planned to dine with the leaders of 11 central European states. Some former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe find the new American closeness to Russia unsettling, and leaders may press Obama for more evidence of American commitment to their security. Prague was chosen for the signing because it was the site of a major address by Obama last year laying out his agenda on nuclear arms control.

Obama hosts a summit meeting next week in Washington to discuss new ways to secure nuclear weapons and materials. Next month, U.S. officials will push for tougher safeguards against proliferation at a conference to review the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Staff writer Christi Parsons in Prague contributed to this report.