WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is poised to adopt a new policy restricting the nation's use of nuclear arms, U.S. officials said, and hopes to persuade Russia to agree to mutual cuts in nuclear arsenals that go beyond the arms treaty both sides will sign this week.
A policy review, expected to be released today, will include language reducing U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons for its national defense. That reflects President Obama's pledge to move toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, and could strengthen U.S. arguments that other countries should either reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons or forego developing them.
The White House also planned to urge Russia to adopt first-ever limits on shorter-range, less powerful nuclear weapons, an arena in which Russia holds an advantage, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the policy review has not been released.
Officials said the document was expected to say the U.S. is moving toward a policy in which the "sole purpose" of nuclear weapons is to deter or respond to nuclear attack. That wording would rule out the use of such weapons to respond to an attack by conventional, biological or chemical weapons. Previous U.S. policy was more ambiguous.
In an interview with the New York Times on Monday, Obama said his administration was explicitly committing not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attacked the United States with biological or chemical weapons. Those threats, he told the newspaper, could be deterred with "a series of graded options" — a combination of old and newly designed conventional weapons.
The Obama administration plans to urge Russia to return to the bargaining table following Senate ratification of the new arms reduction treaty, to be signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Prague on Thursday.
The White House hopes to overcome Russia's expressed reluctance to move beyond the treaty, especially if it means cutting Moscow's arsenal of tactical, or short-range nuclear arms.
These so-called theater nuclear weapons play a key role in Russia's overall defense strategy and are regarded in Moscow as an important bargaining chip on security issues.
The timing of a planned U.S. push for new, broader arms talks with Russia is uncertain. But officials said the proposal would only come after U.S. and Russian legislative approval of the new pact, which isn't expected until the end of this year.
The Russian parliament is almost certain to sign off on any deal negotiated by the Kremlin, but the U.S. Senate's ratification of the new treaty is far from a sure thing.
Obama is hosting dozens of world leaders in a nuclear security summit in Washington next week.