US and Russia highlight nuclear partnership

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — In a symbol of their new partnership, the United States and Russia urged all countries on Monday to follow their recent nuclear arms cuts by taking action toward the goal of global disarmament and a nuclear-free world.

Ambassadors from the former Cold War rivals joined forces at a U.N. General Assembly debate to tout the April 8 signing of a "New START" treaty that would shrink their arsenals to the lowest point since the frightening arms race of the 1960s.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called on all nations "without exception, and first and foremost those that have nuclear arsenals, to join efforts with Russia and the United States in this field and to contribute actively to the disarmament process."

"We are convinced that only through collective efforts we can succeed in achieving effective disarmament and a nuclear-free world," Churkin said.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice encouraged all countries to build on the recent momentum to make "real progress" on disarmament, nonproliferation and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy at the upcoming five-year review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty which begins on May 3.

In an unusual move, Rice and Churkin sent a note to U.N. member states last Wednesday saying they would address Monday's opening session of the debate on "Disarmament and World Security" to highlight the "New START" treaty signing. It "demonstrates the cooperative partnership between the countries in fulfilling our obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and reaffirms our commitment to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons," they said.

The treaty, signed in Prague by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, signaled a bold opening in previously soured U.S.-Russia relations. If ratified by both nations' legislatures, it will shrink the limit of nuclear warheads to 1,550 each over seven years, down about a third from the current ceiling of 2,200.

Churkin, in his speech Monday, said the new treaty "heralds the transition to a higher level of cooperation between Russia and the United States in disarmament and nonproliferation" and lays the foundation for "new relations in the military-strategic area."

Rice called the signing "a major milestone" and said it delivered on President Barack Obama's pledge a year ago to take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons.

"Our joint appearance here today is a sign of the much strengthened relationship between our two nations — a relationship built on candor, cooperation and mutual respect," she said.

At a 47-nation summit hosted by Obama last week, Medvedev and other world leaders endorsed the U.S. leader's call for securing all nuclear materials around the globe within four years to keep them out of the grasp of terrorists. The U.S. and Russia also completed a long-delayed agreement on disposing of tons of plutonium from Cold War-era weapons.

Rice said the United States "will work to reverse the spread of nuclear weapons and to build momentum for their elimination" at next month's conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT.

The 1968 treaty, considered the cornerstone of global nonproliferation efforts, aimed to prevent the spread of atomic arms beyond the five original weapons powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China. It requires signatory nations not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five nuclear powers to move toward nuclear disarmament and guarantees non-nuclear states access to peaceful nuclear technology to produce nuclear power.

In his speech to the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged that the NPT treaty become universal, which would mean nuclear powers India and Pakistan and Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, signing on and North Korea rejoining.