Thomas Pickering, former US ambassador to the United Nations, India, and Russia

June 19, 2013

President Obama, with the support of his military and civilian advisors, added a further set of steps to his continued effort to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. He proposed that the United States would be willing to cut by one-third our operational nuclear weapons currently set at 1,550 under the New Start treaty.

He further added that he wanted a negotiated agreement with Russia, but advisors signaled he was willing, if that were not available, to see both sides reduce unilaterally. The absence of a treaty might once again raise the problem of weak verification as that absence lifted the requirement for ratification.

Without details, he pledged continued efforts at nonproliferation with Iran and North Korea. No mention was made of Rowhani’s election as president of Iran, but he treated carefully in his language the fact that Iran has not yet developed a nuclear weapon, according to US intelligence.

Some Russian commentators argued that reductions could not take place without some shift in the US position on ballistic missile defense (BMD). They apparently overlooked the fact that the president opened the door to US-Russian cooperation in this arena through his cancellation several months ago of the fourth version of a BMD interceptor with capabilities that concerned the Russians, given its design capacity to impact their offensive force.

He urged ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but gave no indication of when it would be put before the Senate for advice and consent.