Yes, He Can!

Article excerpt

First Obama secured his historic healthcare reforms. Then he laid down the law to Israel. Now - a landmark nuclear disarmament deal Huge cut in warheads banishes legacy of the Cold War

RUSSIA AND the US will sign their most comprehensive nuclear arms control agreement of the post-Cold War era in Prague next month, slashing their strategic warheads by a third, and making substantial cuts in missiles and other long-range delivery systems.

The deal announced yesterday by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev breaks years of deadlock but it is at least as important in diplomatic and political terms as in its purely military aspects. For Mr Obama, the new treaty is a foreign policy achievement to match his huge domestic victory this week in pushing through historic healthcare legislation - and one that goes a long way to fulfil his administration's pledge to "re-set" relations with its former superpower rival.

The timing of the arms control breakthrough - the first comprehensive deal limiting nuclear weapons since 1991 - moreover is perfect, amounting to a down payment by the US ahead of the nuclear security summit Mr Obama is hosting in Washington next month, and the nuclear non-proliferation review conference at the United Nations in May.

One of Mr Obama's first acts after his election was to set out, in a landmark speech in Prague, his ambition of a world without nuclear weapons. But in the first 12 months he has held office, despite being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he has struggled to deliver any foreign policy successes or to shake off perceptions of weakness.

But this week's victory in the domestic power struggle over health has indirectly given a huge boost to Mr Obama's international stature with implications for some of the most intractable international problems. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains at an impasse but on Tuesday the President demonstrated a new uncompromising approach with Benjamin Netanyahu using the Israeli leader's visit to Washington to turn up the pressure over Jewish settlements in occupied territory.

Yesterday's nuclear agreement meanwhile is calculated to send a message to Iran and North Korea, both embroiled in disputes over their nuclear weapons programmes, that the West, with Mr Obama flanked by Russia, is determined to prevent nuclear proliferation. The improved climate between Washington and Moscow also raises hopes among the Western powers that Mr Obama may be able to rally Russia around to supporting harsher UN sanctions on the regime in Tehran.

Yesterday's sinking of a South Korean military vessel raised fears that Pyongyang may be dangerously sabre-rattling to avoid being frog-marched back to the negotiating table on nuclear proliferation. But the deal with Russia allowed Mr Obama to declare that the two largest nuclear powers in the world, the US and Russia, were sending "a clear signal that we intend to lead".

The announced pact breaks a long deadlock between Moscow and Washington on a deal that will replace the previous Start treaty that expired in 2009, and run for the next decade. Each side must now reduce its arsenal of deployed warheads to 1,550 from the 2,200 currently permitted.

"I'm pleased to announce that after a year of intense negotiations, the United States and Russia have agreed to the most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades," Mr Obama said in a personal appearance in the White House press room. …