WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sealed an agreement on Friday on a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty and will meet to sign it on April 8 in Prague, the White House said.
After months of deadlock, a breakthrough deal on a replacement for the Cold War-era START pact marked Obama's most significant foreign policy achievement since taking office and also boosts his effort to "reset" ties with Moscow.
Obama and Medvedev put the finishing touches on the historic accord during a phone call, committing the world's biggest nuclear weapons powers to big cuts in their arsenals.
"This landmark agreement advances the security of both nations and reaffirms American and Russian leadership on behalf of nuclear security and global non-proliferation," the White House said in a statement.
Under the 10-year agreement, each side must reduce its deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 from the 2,200 now allowed, the White House said.
Obama and Medvedev plan to sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which would replace a 1991 pact that expired in December, on April 8 in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, a former Soviet satellite now in NATO.
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That date is around the anniversary of Obama's speech in Prague last year offering his vision for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons, and will help build momentum for a nuclear security summit he will host in Washington on April 12-14.
The White House said the new treaty will not place constraints on U.S. missile defense programs, which had been a sticking point in negotiations because of Russia's opposition to such plans.
Obama still faces a fight for U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty at a time of bipartisan rancor in the wake of a bitter fight that ended in congressional approval of his healthcare overhaul.
The new pact could strengthen Obama politically, giving him a major foreign policy success and building on the domestic political victory he scored this week when he signed sweeping healthcare reform into law.
For almost a year, Russian and U.S. negotiators have tried to reach a follow-on START pact. They missed a December 5 deadline when START I expired.
(Writing by Matt Spetalnick, additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Eric Beech)