WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama praised a program that destroyed more than 7,600 warheads in the past 21 years but said there is more work to be done – both with Russia and the Middle East.
Obama took the opportunity Monday to speak directly to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
“I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching,” Obama said. “The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons,there where be consequences,and you will be held accountable.”
The remarks on Syria were a part of an otherwise-upbeat speech at the National Defense University during a symposium on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction. The 1991 program is a success in terms of decreasing the number of weapons of mass destruction,mostly nuclear missiles.
Russia is unlikely to renew its participation in the agreement when it ends next year.
The agreement also provided a framework for the U.S. and Russia to talk to each other in the post-Cold War era,said Sharon Weiner,an associate professor at American University’s School of International Service.
“CTR created a process of dialogue between the U.S. and Russia,” she said. “It’s not clear that dialogue would have existed otherwise. We talked to each other. We learned from each other. We expressed concerns to each other.”
Obama said that,while “nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security,” there was no reason not to work with the Russians to “update” rather than completely end the 20-year agreement.
Joining the president on the stage was Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta – who said the program was at a “critical inflection point” – and the sponsors of the law,former Sen. Sam Nunn,D-Ga.,and Sen. Dick Lugar,R-Ind.
Lugar,who lost the Republican primary in May and will leave office in January,was the focus of much of Obama’s speech. The two served in the Senate together,and Obama recounted tales of traveling to Russia,Ukraine and Azerbaijan with Lugar. The now 80-year-old “wore out every 25-year-old staffer,” Obama said.
The CTR program began as the Cold War ended,and Russia and other former Soviet republics didn’t have enough money to protect or destroy their nuclear weapons.
Weiner said Russia says it now has the means to pay for its own nuclear security.
The U.S. gives more than $1 billion a year to the program,according to a March 2012 report form the Congressional Research Service. That gives the U.S. influence with a former opponent.
If the program ends,Weiner said the changes would be mostly political.
“There were times the U.S. used reduction money to twist the Russians’ arm,” Weiner said,“We may miss that in the future.”
Reach reporter Emily Wilkins at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.