US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a
new nuclear arms reduction treaty in Prague Castle shortly after noon on
Thursday. The treaty should replace the 1991 START treaty which expired in
December. It commits both sides to cutting by around 30 percent the number
of their nuclear warheads compared with a total agreed in 2002.
President Obama described the agreement as ‘historic,’ adding that it had stopped the drift in US-Russian relations. He said it would help to make the world safe and secure. President Medvedev said the deal marked a ‘new page’ in bilateral ties. The agreement has to be ratified by the US Senate and the Russian Parliament. President Obama said he would press for ratification this year.
Thursday’s signing comes almost exactly a year after President Obama outlined his policies on nuclear weapons in a speech in front of thousands of people at Prague Castle.
Bilateral talks between the US and Russian president ahead of the signing
were expected to cover possible sanctions against Iran over its nuclear
programme, unrest in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan and US
anti-missile defence, according to White House sources.
The US is seeking an agreement for sanctions against Iran, saying that its nuclear programme is aimed at developing weapons. Iran says it is purely to produce electricity. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Iran had not reacted seriously to proposals to deal with the problem of its nuclear programme and suggested the United Nations could discuss steps to take and new sanctions could not be ruled out.
Kyrgyzstan is the centre of turmoil following moves by the opposition to seize power on Wednesday. The country provides the US with a strategic base for operations in Afghanistan.
US plans for missile defence are still a sensitive issue with Moscow even after President Obama’s decision last year not to proceed with plans for an anti-missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. President Obama said missile defence should not affect the strategic balance between the US and Russia. Moscow has said it should be allowed to opt out of the new nuclear arms reduction agreement if the US significantly expands its missile defence network.
The Russian President left Prague on Thursday afternoon. But President
Obama remained in the Czech capital to host a dinner for 11 leaders from
central and eastern Europe in the evening. The informal event is being
as an opportunity for President Obama to reassure regional leaders that
Washington is not deserting its allies because of the decision to reset
relations with Moscow. That fear has been expressed frequently following
the decision by the US at the end of 2009 to ditch plans for an
anti-missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland following
The US president is set to meet with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and President Klaus before he flies back to Washington on Friday.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said he expected a new anti-missile defence shield in Europe to be a NATO project with Russia invited to take part. His comments came following a longer than expected meeting on Thursday with his US counterpart Hilary Clinton. Mr. Kohout said the Czech Republic was interested in taking part in an anti-missile shield but would have to wait for a new government following elections at the end for a clear stance on how this could happen. He added that it was important for Prague that NATO gave priority to the project. The two foreign ministers also discussed Czech involvement in Afghanistan and the chances of increasing the existing Czech contingent by another 55 from the current 535. That increase has not so far been cleared by parliament.
A few dozen activists from the Czech ‘No Bases’ organisation staged a protest in the centre of Prague on Thursday morning ahead of the signing of the new nuclear arms limitation deal. Carrying signs in Russian and English, they protested that the scrapping of old and unwanted weapons was not a real move towards disarmament. That required a public process and clear timetable, they said. The ‘No Bases’ movement was in the forefront of opposition to US plans to site an anti-missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland. The plans were dropped last year by President Obama. The Czech branch of the World Without War organisation said the new deal still meant around 20,000 nuclear warheads would be held worldwide with spending on armaments growing steadily.
In Prague and other locations in the Czech Republic, police enforced strict security measures but reported no problems. The Hilton and Four Seasons hotels, where Barrack Obama is staying and where Dmitry Medvedev stayed, were the most closely guarded locations in the capital. Police and security experts have also been inspecting relatively busy parts of the city, along with potential high risk spots such as bridges and tunnels. Outside Prague, the police are also intensively patrolling motorways that lead to the capital for suspicious vehicles.
Workers at the Czech Republic’s biggest car maker, Škoda Auto, have accepted the latest pay offer from the company according to a union website. The company’s offer was for a 2.7 percent pay rise to take effect immediately from April. It would include a one off payment of 10,000 crowns. A previous offer was for a 2.5 percent rise was turned down, according to a union newspaper. The current agreement expires on April 12. Unions had warned that were prepared to take action if no deal was found. The car maker’s profit fell by two-thirds last year in spite of record sales. It is one of the biggest employers in the country with around 25,000 workers.
The Czech Beer and Malt Association said beer production by affiliated breweries fell by 5.9 percent last year compared with 2008. It added that most of the decrease stemmed from the fall in local demand but exports also dropped by more than 10 percent. It is the first time since the creation of the Czech Republic. Non-alcoholic beer production, which has sharply increased over recent years, also fell back by 1.0 percent. Final figures for total Czech beer production should be released in the summer.
Zoologists from the Czech Republic, Sri Lanka and Australia have come to the conclusion that there are six types of rhino in the world, one more than previously thought. The expert team believes that the Northern White Rhino should be treated as a separate type, one of their number, Jan Robovský from the natural science faculty at the South Bohemian University, told the Czech Press Agency. He said there were so many differences with the type it used to be included with that it deserved to be set apart. Only around eight such Northern Whites are believed to exit in the world. Four were shipped out from a Czech zoo at the end of last year to a Kenya reservation in the hope they could be encouraged to breed.
Czech-born tennis star Martina Navrátilová has revealed that she has breast cancer. A routine scan in February revealed the cancer in its early stages with her prospects of recovering considered excellent. Navrátilová, who took up US citizenship, decided to publicize her problem as a warning to other women to get regular scans. She admitted that she was fortunate in discovering the cancer early after failing to go for check ups for several years. The 53 year old tennis legend won the singles Wimbledon title nine times among the series of grand slam titles she collected during a long career at the top.