WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama plans to place new restrictions on the use of atomic weapons as part of a major US nuclear policy overhaul, a senior administration official said.
In an interview with The New York Times, Obama said he would make exceptions for “outliers like Iran and North Korea,” but stress non-nuclear deterrence and eliminate Cold War ambiguities about when such weapons could be used.
Obama unveils his strategy on Tuesday, two days before signing a treaty with Russia to slash stockpiles of long-range nuclear warheads by a third, and less than a week before hosting world leaders at a key nuclear summit in Washington.
A senior administration official told AFP that the upcoming signing of the new START treaty with Russia, the summit, and the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) will see the administration “embracing a 21st century approach to nuclear weapons.”
“The NPR focuses on preventing nuclear terrorism and proliferation and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, while sustaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent for the United States and our allies,” the official added.
In order to pursue a key foreign policy aim of halting nuclear proliferation, Obama has committed the United States — the only country ever to unleash an wartime atomic bomb — to a series of nuclear arms cuts.
“Now, the Nuclear Posture Review states very clearly, if you are a non-nuclear weapons state that is compliant with the NPT, you have a negative assurance we will not be using nuclear weapons against you,” he told The Times.
“That doesn?t mean that you might not engage in some actions that are profoundly detrimental to US national security, which require action on our part,” Obama said.
“And I?m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure.”
In April 2009, Obama promised in a landmark speech in Prague to work towards a world without nuclear weapons. But he has admitted he does not expect to see that goal reached during his lifetime.
The secretive review of the country’s nuclear strategy, which has not been carried out since 2002, has been delayed, bogged down by apparent divisions within the administration. It was initially due to be released in December.
“All countries, whether they?re nuclear weapons states, non-nuclear weapons states or aspiring nuclear weapons states, I think should be very clear about what our approach and our strategy is,” Obama told The New York Times.
“And I do think that when you?re looking at outliers like Iran or North Korea, they should see that over the course of the last year and a half we have been executing a policy that will increasingly isolate them so long as they are operating outside of accepted international norms.”
From April 12-13, world leaders will discuss in Washington the prevention of acts of nuclear terrorism, and steps that can be taken to secure vulnerable nuclear materials.
Among those attending will be Chinese President Hu Jintao under global pressure to swing behind imposing fresh sanctions on Iran for its continued refusal to rein in its suspect nuclear program.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also take part in the summit, expected to be attended by high-level officials from nuclear-armed neighbors, India and Pakistan.
The United States has said it currently has some 2,200 nuclear warheads, while Russia is believed to have about 3,000.