Expert Groups Largely Back Obama's Nuclear Stance

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Two bipartisan panels of nuclear weapons experts are endorsing much of President Obama's ambitious arms-control effort in advance of next week's nonproliferation talks here between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

A congressionally mandated commission will recommend next week that the United States resume the lead in international efforts to prevent further proliferation of nuclear weapons. The U.S. government should declare that it will rely less on such weapons and seek to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles through extension of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START), according to the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. But, the commission said, it also should maintain "an appropriately effective nuclear deterrent force."

The commission split over Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a move Obama has said he will seek. The group, chaired by William J. Perry, who was President Bill Clinton's defense secretary, and vice-chaired by James R. Schlesinger, who held that post in the Nixon and Ford administrations, agreed that the Senate should take a close look at the "benefits, costs and risks" of the test ban treaty, which was defeated in 1999 when Republicans controlled Congress.

Yesterday, a Council on Foreign Relations task force co-chaired by Perry and Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush, released a report calling for reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles as part of the START extension.

The report also recommended ratification of the test ban treaty to "lessen nuclear threats and promote cooperation on disarmament." Scowcroft told reporters yesterday in a conference call that he thought it would be "a tough struggle" to get the 67 Senate votes necessary for ratification but that he was "cautiously optimistic."

Both the congressional panel and the Council on Foreign Relations task force agreed with Obama's view that prevailing conditions do not allow the elimination of nuclear weapons. They agreed that a safe and secure U.S. nuclear force is needed to reassure America's allies, which without that protection would seek to develop their own weapons.

The congressional panel is calling for deployment of missile defenses against regional and limited long-range threats such as those posed by North Korea and Iran. But Scowcroft yesterday said he thinks U.S. missile defense is one of the issues leading China to modernize and increase its strategic nuclear force. He suggested that the Obama administration seek discussions with Beijing on the nuclear strategies of both countries, adding that it is too early to enter treaty agreements because the Chinese long-range force is so much smaller than that of the United States.

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