Russia and US sign arms treaty

PRAGUE - The US and Russia have signed a landmark disarmament treaty they hope will herald better bilateral ties and raise pressure on countries seeking nuclear weapons to renounce such ambitions.

Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the pact at a ceremony in the mediaeval Prague Castle yesterday after talks that covered nuclear security, Iran's atomic programme and an uprising in the strategic Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.

The agreement will cut strategic nuclear arsenals deployed by the former Cold War foes by 30percent within seven years but leave each with enough to destroy the other.

Both major nuclear powers needed to show they were serious about reducing their vast stockpiles to lend weight to efforts to curb the atomic ambitions of countries such as Iran and North Korea, and avoid accusations of hypocrisy.

White House officials said on Obama's flight to Prague that tougher UN sanctions against Iran's disputed nuclear programme would be prominent in his talks with Medvedev, though no specific announcements were expected.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said: "The Russians are already committed to holding Iran accountable through the multilateral sanctions regime."

The situation in Kyrgyzstan, where opposition protesters forced out President Kurmanbek Bakiyev on Wednesday, thrust its way on to the agenda as both Washington and Moscow have military bases in the poor Central Asian state.

The US base at Manas is vital to supplying Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin effectively recognised the interim Kyrgyz government formed by opposition leader Roza Otunbayeva yesterday, his spokesperson said. There was no immediate word on whether Washington would follow suit.

Obama this week announced a shift in US nuclear doctrine, pledging never to use atomic weapons against non-nuclear states, as he sought to build momentum for an April 12 to 13 nuclear security summit in Washington

He set out his long-term goal to work towards a world without nuclear weapons in a speech at the same Prague Castle a year ago. - Reuters