United States and Russia will sign a disarmament treaty in Prague on Thursday that could herald better bilateral ties and help President Barack Obama raise pressure on countries seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Signing of the START II treaty, which will cut arsenals held by the former Cold War foes by about 30 percent, comes on the heels of a U.S. policy review narrowing the scope for launching nuclear weapons and builds momentum for an April 12-13 nuclear security summit in Washington.
Obama was due to land in Prague early on Thursday and join Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for a signing ceremony at the medieval Prague Castle, where a year ago Obama set out his goal to work toward a world without nuclear weapons.
Medvedev said upon arriving in Prague on Wednesday that the treaty could play a considerable role in shaping disarmament in the future.
Obama will meet Medvedev before the signing and is expected to press him to support tougher U.N. sanctions against Iran, a message he will also push at the nuclear summit in Washington during his meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Steven Pifer, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution, said the pact with Russia would give the U.S. delegation more credibility at the non-proliferation conference.
"If the United States and Russia were to show up with no agreement and between the two of them controlling 95 percent of the weapons, it's pretty easy for the non-nuclear states to say, 'well you're not doing your part, why should we?'," Pifer said.
Obama's new nuclear strategy document unveiled this week forswears the use of atomic weapons against non-nuclear countries, a break with a George W. Bush-era threat of nuclear retaliation in the event of a biological or chemical attack.